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Brazil offers many lessons to all those interested in making forest governance more effective – interview with Thais Linhares-Juvenal

This interview is part of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series with key experts in forest governance. It was developed in the context of the NewGo! project which aims to provide scientific knowledge on lessons learned from initiatives related to zero deforestation, forest restoration, and sustainable forest finance. The project sets the ground for the EFI Governance Programme.

Tell us a bit about who you are.

Thais Linhares-Juvenal in the FAO headquarters, Rome.

I am an economist with a diversified background in governance, from corporate and market governance to public matters, working exclusively on forest matters for the last 16 years. I built a great part of my experience in Brazil, where I had the privilege to work with federal, provincial and municipal governments, and the private sector to set up institutional arrangements in response to the 1988 Constitution mandate for decentralization, participation and accountability. I engaged with the climate change agenda early on, and have worked on increasing participation of native and planted forests in climate change mitigation since 1996. When REDD+ was formally accepted as a potential mitigation measure by the UNFCCC in the 2000s, I redirected my career towards forest development in the context of climate change. Since then, I worked both nationally and internationally, mostly with developing countries on governance, climate, and finance issues. This experience has been valuable to my current work at FAO, where I focus on governance to halt deforestation and forest degradation, as well as forests in the sustainable bioeconomy. As part of this work, we give special attention to building capacities for evidence-based policy-making and improved cross-sectoral coordination to respond to environmental and socioeconomic issues.

What is forest governance?

Forest governance is the set of formal and informal norms, rules and institutions, which guide the way decisions are made and implemented. It is essential for achieving the common-good.

Why is governance needed?

In accordance with my definition above, governance is essential for the agreement on goals, their achievement, and the way their benefits are distributed to different stakeholders. Without governance, opportunistic behaviours, rivalry, and non-collaboration prosper jeopardize common goals and the protection of public goods, while favouring the increase of inequalities.

What makes governance “good”? How can it achieve the well-being of both the forests concerned and the communities depending upon them?

The very first aspect is ensuring that everyone is represented and has a voice, and that a minimum level of information is available. Due to the remoteness of some forest communities, the issues related to tenure rights and the dominant informality requires effort to ensure all relevant groups are heard and their needs factored into the policy-making process. The second aspect is to recognise that policies to protect forests and to support forest-dependent communities do not always evolve in the same direction. Trade-offs will be often in place and they need to be assessed and dealt with. Connecting with other relevant sectors and actors can help addressing trade-offs and provide potential policy synergies, reconciling the environmental and socioeconomic objectives. For instance, adoption of social protection instruments can mitigate potential loss of income due to forest conservation needs. The third aspect is to have regular monitoring and incorporation of lessons learned. Finally, there is a need to always remind ourselves that forests are diverse even within the same country or landscape and nowadays, through geospatial tools and a wide set of information available, fine-tuned policies and their instruments are needed to ensure community needs are duly considered.

How should governance function?

Effective governance depends on different steps and processes. I will outline what I see as the main ones, because I firmly believe that governance only works properly if the understanding and capacity to perform all of them are in place.

Mapping: Considering governance is made of a set of formal and informal actors and norms, it needs to be grounded in a good understanding of the relevant actors and their practices. There is also the need to fully understand the problem and how these different actors contribute to it. It is important to ensure the completion of the mapping and to not neglect those in remote areas, or with no full recognition of their rights. The diagnostic phase, which should be based on evidence as much as possible, is the key pre-condition for governance to work. There is no possibility of effective governance towards long-term sustainable management of natural resources if equality is not pursued and minorities and specific groups are not heard.

Problem-setting: Clear problem-setting supports the process to set up goals and instruments to achieve them. The multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral committees can also act with a higher degree of responsibility and accountability to the decisions made.

Decision-making: Clarity on the process to make decisions and mandates are essential for effective governance. Assigning responsibilities and a level of accountability as well as monitoring of the process can build stability for the decision-making process and increase trust. Cross-sectoral platforms for systematic dialogue between forestry and other sectors as a means to achieve policy-coherence are also critical for effective governance.

Participation:  Multi-stakeholder committees or commissions and public discussions are needed to ensure all segments are represented and very few countries perform an impact assessment of their policies. A proper social and environmental assessment of public policies can be too expensive for most of the countries. However, the decision-making process should encompass some sort of review for impacts performed by relevant stakeholders.

Monitoring: Capacity is needed to assess progress, guide enforcement, identify areas that need attention, and guide educational/advocacy work. Using monitoring to support enforcement through intelligence units can generate cost-effective results, with more targeted enforcement action. Monitoring is often seen in a negative light and is sometimes contaminated by politics. Building a more positive approach towards monitoring of results and policy assessments could improve governance enormously.

Enforcement: Proper enforcement should generate a clear understanding of the process and protect resources. Enforcement based on information and supported by a systematic review of monitoring information, in addition to information coming from non-forest agencies (i.e. police and financial authorities), generates effective results. For instance, cooperation between Interpol and environmental authorities has proved to be successful in many countries. It is important that the educational side of enforcement is not lost. The ultimate objective is to prevent the infringement of the law. Typical problems with enforcement are corruption and the political and financial use of sanctions (as well as of licensing).

Transparency:  It is a key pillar of forest governance and can build trust as well as contribute to equity. Easy and open access to information can not only expand the monitoring capacity through other stakeholders, but also build knowledge and capacities through analysis of the available information. Technology prices have gone down, making effective monitoring of forest areas and production more accessible. Bringing information together through information systems is essential. We should use IT and digital innovation to support governance and operationalize responsible production and consumption.

Review/lessons learned: As mentioned above, this is an often missed or misplayed step when working towards effective governance. However, I believe that the development of forest information systems and capacity to assess evidence will improve the generation and uptake of lessons learned.

Who needs to be involved?

As answered above, we need multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral processes. The key aspect is mapping the actors and their influence in the process. Additionally, clarity on what are the different needs of formulation, implementation, and monitoring processes will inform who shall participate. Ensuring proper space and capacity to include indigenous peoples, traditional communities, and other minorities, as well as well grievance and re-addressing mechanisms are fundamental in supporting forest governance committed to promoting equality and social justice.

Where is governance most needed?

Governance is always needed.

What are the challenges with governance today in the light of what you said in the previous question?

Deforestation and forest degradation demand urgent action and is often related to widespread illegality, corruption. It also affects transboundary trade, and increases demand and prices of land-based products at a much faster pace than improvement in governance. Alongside these problems, marginalization of indigenous peoples and traditional communities still continues, making them vulnerable to land-grabbers and to impoverished livelihoods. Recognizing the rights of indigenous and traditional communities, improving their access to public policies and markets, increasing capacity at the national level to build and use forest information systems, and improving cooperation among national authorities and with neighboring countries are some of the key steps that are needed in order to conserve forests and improve livelihoods. An international commitment from consumer countries to respect national legal frameworks in producer regions and promote consumption of sustainable products can also accelerate change.

What are the positive changes that you have seen happening in the context of forest governance?

Programmes like REDD+ and FLEGT raised awareness and built capacities to fight deforestation and illegality. Many countries count on robust forest monitoring systems, traceability of forest products, and improved legal frameworks. International monitoring systems have improved and their access has been facilitated, which has allowed the scientific community and independent experts to contribute with analysis and reviews. The climate change agenda and the SDGs have highlighted not only the importance of forest conservation, but also of forest peoples. The rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities are high in the agenda and their role and contributions are much better understood. Global political leaders are aware and leading action on forest issues, as well as urban and rural municipalities, and the private sector. We have seen an increasing number of partnerships to achieve the SDGs and climate objectives, many with an exclusive focus on forests, and the financial markets have embraced the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESGs) impact.

Please provide an example of a success story/case study.

Forest in Salvador, Brazil.
Photo by Felipe Dias on Unsplash

Well, being Brazilian I should not mention Brazil, but I will because it is a very inspiring story of improved forest governance even in challenging days. Furthermore, governance is a continuous process, so we cannot assess success based on a single point in time. The country offers many lessons to all those interested in making forest governance more effective. The remarkable drop of more than 80% in the deforestation of the Amazon in less than 10 years demonstrates that it is possible to halt deforestation, and this represents one of the most successful forest governance stories to date. Many people do not know that until early 2000s Brazil had very high deforestation rates and a terrible record of rural violence. However, responding to international pressure and also through the increase in international cooperation after Rio 92, the country built the national capacity to set up participatory processes, enable a very robust monitoring system, and build public and civil society initiatives to work with its forests and peoples. The strongest focus was on the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon, but the other three national forest biomes also benefited. The government at the time was more sensitive to environmental issues, and as a result the country implemented an overhauling policy against deforestation. It had a vision of regional development without deforestation, which harnessed capacities and created a positive cycle. The progress of REDD+ in the international agenda certainly helped such a remarkable progress, but I would say that the key enabling factor for the change was the internal capacity to advance the forest and the rights agenda developed in the previous 15 years. When the positive tide came in 2003/2004, it was “plug and play” as stakeholders and institutions were ready for the change.

We are forest experts and not politicians and we should not fear the democratic process. In this context, if a good governance system is in place, even if governmental action retracts, it is still possible to access and review data, build analysis, and work to protect rights and resist pervasive measures. In this case, governance built resilience and capacity to react.

I believe the ultimate goal of forest governance is to mainstream forest conservation and the understanding of forest contributions to sustainable development, in order to minimize the impact of different political views. However, we should be prepared to know that progress might not be continuous. There might be conjuncture inflexions. But if capacities are built, we can always expect negative measures will be overturned and their impact will be attenuated. Governments are always a key player in governance. Nevertheless, governments should not translate the whole State. As long as we have capacities built in state and private sector and civil society institutions, governance can continue to work for the interests of society. I might be optimistic, but I definitely feel inspired by Brazil and the lessons it offers us.

Read the other interviews in the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series:

We need to align the different interests related to forests to regulate conflicts and maximise synergies – interview with Georg Winkel

Stakeholder participation in forest governance is key for sustainable forest management – interview with Eva Müller

Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Curbing forest loss with and for the local communities in Uganda – interview with Rose Kobusinge

Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa provide evidence of a successful circular bioeconomy – interview with Darren Lapp

Involving and remunerating local communities to save the Amazon – Interview with Johan Wittkamper

Expansive approaches to inclusivity and participation are key for good governance in Rwanda – interview with Bernadette Arakwiye

Forest governance in Ghana should function with transparency and accountability – interview with Mustapha Seidu


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