Forests cover nearly one-third of the earth’s land surface, harbour three-quarters of its terrestrial biodiversity and account for almost half its terrestrial carbon pool. People are depending to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods; 200 million are directly depending on them for their survival. In addition to supplying food, shelter, construction and income, forests provide fundamental ecosystem services such as freshwater, soil protection and climate regulation while they are also major habitats for wildlife. At the same time, forests face a broad array of threats including from illegal logging, conversion, deforestation and climate change with devastating environmental, economic and social effects. One can sadly witness the link between forest disappearance and poverty increase, triggered by soil erosion, loss of fertility, water scarcity, and loss of food resources.
Addressing the global challenge of deforestation and forest degradation has been and continue to remain a priority for the European Union. This has become even more important in the light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The main aim of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is to bring the sustainable use of natural resources at the heart of development. Attaining sustainable forest management and halting deforestation has been specifically integrated in the Agenda (Target 15.2). As forests can play a major role in addressing many of today’s global challenges from poverty eradication to water and food security, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, social justice, peace and security they are central to all pillars of the Agenda: Planet, People, Prosperity Peace and Partnership. The “New European Consensus on Development – Our World, our Dignity, our Future“ emphasizes further the need to direct major private sector investments towards preventing deforestation, and maintaining healthy ecosystems while keeping smallholder farmers and the poor central to sustainable development. It highlights the role the EU aims at playing in improving governance relating to tenure of land and forests, promoting good governance and the rule of law.
Already back in 2003, the EU, in line with its responsibility as one of the largest timber consumers, undertook to lead global efforts to address illegal logging and its associated trade, foster the EU’s wider objective to encourage sustainable forest management and contribute to sustainable development through the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (“FLEGT Action Plan“). Based on the collaboration between producers and consumers and a combination of measures targeting the production and availability of, and demand for, illegal timber the Action Plan has built a global coalition against illegal logging by leveraging trade measures, development cooperation and broad stakeholder engagement. One of the central elements of the Action Plan is the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) that prohibits the placing on the EU market of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber and requires EU operators to exercise due diligence to limit the risk of illegal timber in their supply chains. Another central element is the establishment of the FLEGT licensing scheme through the conclusion of FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) where the EU works together with partner countries to strengthen forest governance, promote better law enforcement and develop systems to ensure the legality of the timber exported into the EU.
In 2016, the Court of Auditors and the independent evaluation concluded that the EU FLEGT Action Plan has contributed to ‘raising the bar’ internationally by improving forest governance, enhancing the policy dialogue, improving transparency and accountability, and levelling the playing field, and that while the FLEGT objectives remain pertinent, actions need to be prioritised, streamlined and contextualised in view of the political, financial and policy context. While remaining committed to achieving the objectives of the EU FLEGT Action Plan, the Commission has been working towards the development of a work plan for FLEGT implementation in response to the main recommendations to guide strategic management, planning and monitoring. Given the diversity of stakeholders including from governments, civil society and private sector, involved in the implementation of FLEGT Action Plan it is important that their views, ideas and inputs on future work for FLEGT implementation are sought and addressed as part of the development of this work plan.
As part of the follow-up to the evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan, the Commission is also considering means through which FLEGT could better address the issue of illegal forest conversion and how illegal logging relates to the other drivers of deforestation in producing countries, such as agriculture expansion. From a more general perspective, the Commission has commissioned in 2016 an independent study to consider the feasibility of options to step up EU action to combat deforestation and forest degradation as a follow-up to the 7th Environment Action Programme and the 2013 Commission study assessing the impact of EU consumption on deforestation in third countries. This study, which results are expected to be available by mid-2017, will help the Commission to further assess to which extent EU action against deforestation could be enhanced. In this context, taking stock of perspectives and initiatives from EU Member States, producer countries governments, private sector and civil society will be an important contribution to the Commission’s on-going work on deforestation. In May 2014 a Conference was organized, bringing together stakeholders from governments, private sector and civil society from both producer and consumer countries. A study on the feasibility of developing an EU Action Plan on deforestation is currently being conducted to identify and assess policy options available to step up EU action on deforestation and forest degradation.
DG DEVCO and DG ENV are co-organising this conference in Brussels, aiming at taking stock of progress, achievements and bottlenecks as well as exploring opportunities for impactful action with regard to the implementation of FLEGT as well as potential further action on deforestation.