VPAs, the EU’s crown jewel, are indispensable for fighting global deforestation
Expand the remit of VPAs to reach climate change and biodiversity targets, writes Heidi Hautala MEP.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) In order to reach the internationally agreed climate and biodiversity goals, the earth’s carbon sinks, the forests cover, must be preserved and increased, giving us a few more years to reach our objectives.
The EU has high ambitions and is developing measures to eradicate deforestation from the value chains of companies placing products on EU markets. This is a crucial step forward. EU consumption corresponds to 10% of global deforestation.
However, it is not enough that the EU cleans its own market. Deforestation is not simply about the environment. It is a holistic issue intrinsically linked to human rights — land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty — and good governance.
Deforestation is a systemic issue which requires a full array of tools.
Good governance and transparency are prerequisites for solving the issue of deforestation. However, strengthening good governance in a resource rich partner country is a difficult task.
The EU has created an innovative, and to date one of the only effective tools for progress.
The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan was launched in 2003. A key tool of the Action Plan are the trade agreements for boosting trade in legally sourced timber, the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs).
VPAs’ ground breaking results have arisen from tackling corruption, strengthening law enforcement, and ensuring civil society and community participation in decision making. One major advantage of the VPAs is that they do not restrict themselves to timber products exported to the EU. FLEGT helps clean the whole forest sector in a partner country regardless of whether the production goes for domestic use or for export to any global destination.
However, FLEGT is meant to address illegal deforestation in the timber sector only. A vast amount of deforestation is legal and happens especially through the expansion of agricultural production.
Without sacrificing the achievements of VPA FLEGT the EU should now upgrade the FLEGT Action Plan so that it addresses not just legality but also sustainability. But let us repeat, legality is fundamental and it would be counterproductive to throw the baby out with the bath water.
The FLEGT scope could be enlarged from trade in timber to include agricultural products. Beef, soy, cocoa and palm oil are among the biggest drivers of deforestation.
The lesson of FLEGT is that without work towards transformative changes in the production countries, it will not be possible to reach the objective of halting the loss of forest cover.
Coca case study
An excellent pilot project for approaching this systemic issue and deploying the full range of tools is the EU Multistakeholder Dialogue on Sustainable Cocoa. It brings all actors and stakeholders around cocoa to the table and takes advantage of different levels and forms of cooperation.
The envisaged outcome is to have measures directed in a way to share the burden equally among farmers, producer countries, companies along the value chain, and the EU. To achieve this, three commissioners are working hand in hand. This pilot could be replicated commodity by commodity.
The EU is the biggest development donor in the world and can help its partner countries towards sustainability along the lines of its Green Deal. The EU is already determined to put in place due diligence obligations on companies. These can be accompanied by upgraded partnerships in order to fight against global deforestation.
They could be based on the extended FLEGT model.
These views are those of the author and not the editorial team at Brussels Morning.