Corruption lays at the root of the major problems we face as a planet. It fuels illegal logging and deforestation, the second largest contributor to global warming.
Demand for deforested land for agriculture, housing and resource exploitation is unrelenting, causing an increase in deforestation. Forests are being degraded and removed at a current rate of 13 million hectares each year. The global illegal timber trade is worth $50-152 billion annually, making corruption’s role in deforestation incredibly lucrative for those involved but incredibly destructive for the planet.
By importing certain products such as palm oil, beef, leather, soy, cocoa and timber, Europe is part of this problem. The EU was the leading importer of products linked to deforestation between 1990-2008 causing an area of deforestation at least the size of Portugal.
In 2003, the EU developed its first Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, aimed at reducing illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally harvested timber through the creation of Voluntary Partnership Agreements with timber-producing countries. However, illegal logging still plagues most of these countries and is frequently linked to corruption and organised crime.
Transparency International is working on forest governance at the EU level, advocating for policies that in the long-term will promote a culture of integrity and anti-corruption in tropical countries, and following the FLEGT Action Plan and its different measures since its creation.
On 4th May 2016, the European Commission published an independent evaluation report of the FLEGT Action Plan. The culmination of almost two years of evidence and result-based analysis, the report assesses its progress, achievements, shortcoming and gaps.
The outcome of the evaluation is clear: FLEGT is still a relevant measure but the EU needs to develop new strategies and tools in order to tackle new threats and shortcomings.
Addressing corruption and lack of political will are the main challenges for the continuation of the FLEGT Action Plan. Special attention needs to be devoted to tackling forest crimes, collusion between public officials and logging companies, and bribery. This will only happen by actively promoting the rule of law and strengthening the participation of civil society organisations and local communities.
Corruption in the forestry sector often manifests itself through corporate crimes, involving a system of fraud, tax fraud, forged permits or permits acquired through bribes, laundering of illegally procured timber and extensive smuggling operations, in addition of the use of shell companies based in tax havens.
Transparency International’s key calls on the EU are mirrored by the findings of the European Commission’s evaluation. The only way for FLEGT to succeed is for the European Commission to look beyond the forestry sector and recognise it as a good governance and accountability tool instead of a just a trade instrument.
Currently, EU Member States are discussing options for a review of FLEGT by the end of June. This means the European Commission will soon have the chance to develop a far stronger position by increasing its impact on the ground through addressing governance, integrity, human rights and sustainability. These are issues which the EU has already committed itself to by signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals. FLEGT needs to be identified as a key priority for the achievement of these goals as well as the objectives included in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
It is time for the Commission to go beyond a “business as usual” approach. Forests and local communities need concrete efforts and far-reaching policies. We cannot stop deforestation and climate change without stopping corruption.