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Forest Governance: How to orientate in the labyrinth of international forest policies?

By Lukas Giessen and Carmen Rodríguez

In this Blogpost Lukas Giessen and Carmen Rodríguez, both EFI staff, provide us with an insight into a recently published article on the numerous elements of international forest-related policy. The paper indicates that the many policies addressing forests in a way or another are fragmented and often conflict with one another, possibly leading to unsuccessful forest protection efforts of many governments around the globe. But this fragmentation is also found to hold promise for actors in finding allies to their own missions.

Because it is quite tricky to identify the actually relevant elements of a fragmented set of international policies, we developed a new method for mapping the entire governance architecture of international forest policy, using the United Nations Forum on Forests’ (UNFF) deliberations as key reference.

Our study identifies more than 40 international policies, programmes, and institutions (we call them “institutional elements”), which aim at steering the ways in which forests are addressed at global level. Some of them, such as the Rio Declaration or the Kyoto Protocol, are more known than other, e.g. the Monterrey Consensus, or the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

We found some other elements such as different Conventions of the International Labour Organization, that even though well established, have rarely been connected to international forest policy.

Following this mapping exercise, we analyzed synergies and conflicts between the goals of those 40+ institutional elements. We found that synergistic relations mostly exist among those elements, which formulate their goals rather vaguely around “sustainable development” or “sustainable forest management”.

These hardly conflict with any other element, as everyone translates “sustainable” in a different way. We refer to words like these as “empty formulas” and “non-decisions”.


Map of the International Forest Regime Complex. Source: C. Rodríguez et al.

On the other hand, the more concrete the policy goals of an element, the more they clash with other parts of international forest policy. For example, the forest certification schemes, such as FSC and PEFC, are explicit about what “sustainable forest management” means in practice. However, they turn out being in conflict with elements aiming to merely reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+).

We identified four main fields of tension:

  1. free-trade-related elements VS biodiversity, species and habitat conservation
  2. elements supporting indigenous peoples as civic actors VS those explicitly strengthening national governmental actors.
  3. elements giving credits to forest carbon sequestration through REDD+ VS forest certification for comprehensive, sustainable forest management.
  4. internally within key elements of the forest regime complex, such as the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD).

We observed a lot of fragmentation which is not negative per se. In the study, we discuss for which actors and policy sectors this fragmentation holds promise or is even beneficial.

We believe that our perspective will allow people engaged in global forest governance to make sense of the plethora of global forest initiatives and to identify promising partners that support their mission.

You can find the full paper “Mapping the fragmentation of the international forest regime complex: institutional elements, conflicts and synergies” here.

Carmen Rodríguez has further published a relatively personal “behind the article” blog post on Medforest you can find here.

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