Amongst a number of other European Forest Institute’s side event activities and contributions during the climate #COP23 in Bonn, the Institute organised this side event in the prestigious facilities of its new Bonn office, well-located on the UN campus and next door to the climate negotiations. This joint effort between EFI Bonn, the EFI FLEGT and REDD Unit in Barcelona, and the EFI-coordinated SAFARI project was organised by Anna Begemann, Lukas Gießen, Theresa Cashore, Camilla Dolriis, Jo Van Brusselen, Yitagesu Tekle, Jussi Viitanen, and Gesche Schifferdecker, all EFI. More than 50 participants representing government, international organisations, NGOs, academia as well as private companies and consultancy firms attended this vivid discussion event on 11th November 2017.
The climate deliberations of previous years have clearly shown: Forests are a crucial aspect of global approaches to climate change policy, esp. in the tropics. Persistent deforestation and forest degradation cause a huge amount of carbon emissions, while growing forest stock, legal and sustainable forest management as well as the use of wood-based materials are highly capable of mitigating emissions from multiple sources.
Since 2008, a number of REDD+ initiatives actively used this tropical forest-climate nexus for initiating and supporting political climate change deliberations and solutions. Almost ten years later, some of these initiatives are operational and being implemented. Many of them, however, are facing severe implementation deficits, and a number of lessons were learned. Undoubtedly, the overall REDD+ approach as well as its funding have influenced the broad field of global forest governance in substantial ways. Meanwhile, also other forest governance initiatives have evolved, increasingly looking at other sectors such as mining and agriculture or at specific aspects such as timber legality. All such forest governance initiatives are lately also being influenced by overarching global objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals and private sector commitments on zero deforestation.
At present, many governance initiatives are in the phase of implementation, and a number of questions arise: How do we ensure that guidelines are followed and initiatives actually implemented? Who are the key players necessary for a successful and synergistic implementation? What is the relationship between global governance initiatives and local political and governance practices?
Against this background, this side event aimed to shed light on the possible future of global forest governance, including strong current trends and likely future scenarios. The event did so employing a panel-audience discussion format. Short initial input presentations by highly experienced experts from the field of forest-climate cooperation led into an open and lively discussion with the audience.
The discussion event was opened by Dr. Georg Winkel, Head of EFI Bonn office and moderated by Dr. Lukas Giessen, EFI Principal Scientist on International Forest Governance. The invited speakers were asked to identify current drivers as well as likely future options for global forest governance initiatives:
One option still valid would be having a strong international forest convention that guarantees cohesive global approaches to forest governance, as expressed by the speaker Matthias Schwoerer, Head of the Division European and International Forest Policy of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Linking multiple implementation efforts of different forest governance initiatives at national levels and under the SFM concept, however, was crucial as well for achieving impacts, he said. Jussi Viitanen, Head of the EFI FLEGT and REDD Unit spoke of the importance of long-term forest governance reform processes, where the technical and political aspects of decision making had to be taken into account in equal terms. He argued that one of the reasons why FLEGT has been so successful is that it used different pressure points between government and private sector and engaged both of them effectively. However, as Matthias Schwörer remarked, the government level decision making is a slow process. Very often the private sector can act quicker and may have greater impact on local level than a government initiative. Conversely, the private sector was a very complex combination of different organisations, corporations, banking and financing systems, as Marisa Camargo, Head of Strategy and Sustainability from Indufor consulting pointed out.
A unifying feature among private business, however, was the urgent need for data, information, and reporting tools to demonstrate and verify any positive voluntary contribution of private companies to deforestation. Additionally, the importance of good communication between global and local actors was stressed. Prof. Michael Köhl from the University of Hamburg argued that one important reason why some initiatives are facing severe implementation deficits is the discrepancy between international agreements and grass root action, between guidelines set on the international level and the implementation mainly happening at local levels. He stressed again that data, monitoring and reporting tools were key in overcoming such discrepancies. Dr. Tim Cadman from Griffith University in Australia, finally presented an assessment of the quality of many global forest governance initiatives, based on good governance criteria and indicators. In addition, he raised the issue of external consultants coming in with a project and then leaving without giving the locals the means to really implement the project results successfully.
The diversity of the speakers with their expertise in policy-making, implementation and facilitation, as well as academic governance analysis left an observable impression on the audience – one could tell. Their brief presentations displayed strong insights, provided a lot of content and left the engaged audience with plenty of ideas for discussion. The following open discussions centred on the boundaries of global forest governance and how areas without forest or designated for agricultural purposes can be handled. This led the discussion to issues of forest landscape aspects and how this may assist in accounting for forest’s contributions to global goals. Others expressed concern about how afforestation of areas with previously no forest cover is regarded and whether REDD+ could contribute or be recognised in the voluntary carbon markets. While the future of forest governance is hard to predict, it got clear that any forest governance initiative aiming to achieve impacts on the ground, necessarily needs to be tailored to the national, sub-national as well as local circumstances. While a lot of technical knowledge on how to proceed existed, knowledge and realistic implementation strategies based on the political and governance contexts was largely missing.
These discussion outcomes, and especially the latter point of tailored governance initiatives with realistic implementation strategies and data-based reporting tools, will further inform EFI’s ongoing process of developing a forest governance programme. Such efforts will actively integrate EFI’s many existing research as well as substantial practical implementation and facilitation experiences on forest governance. A series of meetings in e.g. Barcelona, Bonn, and potentially also other key locations will be instrumental in this endeavour, to which this COP 23 side event contributed valuable content.