Side event Wednesday 8.30 a.m. – Restoration and conversion
A new take on forest conversion
Anne Sofie (Forfang Communication Manager, Senior Consultant, Trademark Expert) · NEPCon

A packed side event explored possibilities for FSC to address forest conversion and related issues in new and smarter ways. The current rules limit FSC’s reach and potential for harnessing investment in good forestry.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.The exclusion of post-1994 converted land from FSC certification has been controversial for years. Conversion lies at the heart of deforestation, so why should FSC embrace it at all? However, in practice the rule curbs FSC’s impact.

Margareta Renström of WWF is part of a small group of committed FSC members who have set out to find a solution. She presented a new discussion paper that forms the basis for Motion 12 of the FSC General Assembly 2014.

Trade-offs are inevitable

Rod Taylor from WWF outlined the context, where a tripling of world income is in the pipeline and where agriculture is set to devour more and more natural ecosystems, including forests. “There’s no simple solution to resolving issues of deforestation and providing the world with the food, fiber and feed it needs in the future. There are trade-offs in all this,” he said.

Post-1994 conversions are widespread. Under current FSC rules, operations including any converted areas can never obtain FSC certification unless they change hands. “FSC lacks a mechanism to influence such land,” Taylor noted.

Richard Donovan of the Rainforest Alliance stressed the scale of the issue: “An estimated 30 percent plus of all timber is coming from plantations, and it’s projected to grow. Point: plantations are going to be there and the numbers are big.”

One answer might be the introduction of compensation mechanisms, where past conversions don’t necessarily exclude areas from certification, but where the operation needs to compensate through special restoration or conservation measures.

Are we excluding the good guys?

Karen Kirkman of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) made it clear that the problem is acute in Africa: “Africa consumes more timber than any other region in the world, mainly for fuel wood. During the last 20 years, the continent has lost 30–40 percent of its forests,” she said, and stressed the point that the speed of deforestation is increasing.

Plantations could provide stable timber supplies; however, the conversion rule forms a barrier to their establishment. Investment without FSC certification is seen as too risky by many investors.

Aditya Bayunanda of WWF Indonesia fears that the conversion rule may give inferior schemes the upper hand: “Over the last 10 years, 10 million hectares have been opened to plantations in Indonesia. FSC has played no role in influencing that. It is very easy for operators to say, ‘We can’t obtain FSC certification. It’s not allowed. We can only use these other standards’.”

Exclusion of communities

Forestry expert Berty van Hensbergen asked, “Do you know that here’s hardly a community in Africa that can engage with FSC? They’ve converted forests for subsistence and we’re cutting them out completely.”

A social chamber member offered an example from highland Bolivia, where trees have been planted on land degraded by subsistence use. “If the area could be certified, the local community could produce furniture for the FSC market. If the rules of the game are not changed, you’re punishing forest-living communities and the environment,” she said.

Hard to spend good money

Adam Grant of the forest investment company New Forests said that the conversion rule is a serious limitation to investing in FSC forests. “We’ve had to walk away from potential investments due to that. An estimated 225 trillion US dollars are available for forest investments. Can we help FSC to put these funds to work? If the money stays on the table for too long, investors will be pushed to move into other directions,” he said.

Mogens Petersen of International Woodland Company (IWC) shared these concerns: “We often tell investors that FSC certification can bolster investments in regions where this would otherwise be risky. But it’s a challenge to deploy the funds.”

The way forward: Thresholds and restoration

The need for restoration of the world’s degraded forests is huge, and FSC could play a more active role in this. One way for FSC to do this might be to link past conversion to specific requirements for restoration.

A delegate representing a Nicaraguan indigenous community said, “Back in the 1970s, timber companies caused degradation of forests that our community lives depends on. It’s hard for us to accept that nobody’s doing anything about the restoration of those forests. FSC has a role to play here.”

Richard Donovan stressed that ongoing FSC revision processes provide the opportunity for amending the current approach to conversion. This could be done by setting thresholds and conditions for when operations can be allowed into the system despite some level of post-1994 conversion.