The right backing on forest management

Posted on November 1, 2011. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |

-The Star-

IN a nutshell, the Forest Steward-ship Council (FSC) serves as a stamp of approval – only logging companies that are found to meet its set of forest management stan-dards are endorsed to use its logo.

Its birth lay in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit, where there was a general frustration that international responses to deforestation were inadequate and too slow. In response, environmental groups and their allies took the initiative and in 1993, the FSC was launched.

The idea behind FSC was to build sustainability into the industry by encouraging forest businesses to voluntarily adopt environmentally and socially acceptable practices. With an industry involving as many stakeholders as this one however, its proponents knew that for a forest certification scheme to work, everyone would have to be on board. Hence, one of FSC’s trademark features is that its membership is made up of three chambers representing the interests of every type of stakeholder imaginable: so-cial, environmental and economic.

These chambers consist of non-governmental organisations, indigenous people associations, unions, academia, technical institutions, certification bodies, trade associations, retailers and wholesalers.

Central to the certification scheme is a set of Principles and Criteria which guides sustainable forestry in legal, environmental, social and cultural concerns. The Principles and Criteria are phrased in general language; therefore it is up to each national committee to interpret them in the local context. From there, they move on to develop a set of national standards which will form the framework for logging companies aiming for FSC Forest Management Certification and in the downstream sector, wood products manufacturers aiming for FSC Chain of Custody Certification (essentially a paper trail to ensure that the wood came from sustainable sources).

Monitoring and certifying the industry are FSC-endorsed, independent third party certification bodies which audit logging companies and wood products manufacturers for compliance. If no national standards have been developed for that country, the third party certification bodies can come up with a specific set of indicators and verifiers, which must be submitted to FSC headquarters for approval. This is the process local companies currently holding FSC certificates have gone through.

Other schemes

FSC is by no means the only forest certification scheme though it seems to be the most widely accepted one.

Another certification body is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Founded in 1999, this umbrella organisation provides certification based on mutual recognition of regional and national programmes, including the Malaysian Timber Certification Council’s certification scheme.

PEFC covers 220 million hectares of certified forests, almost doubled FSC’s 144 million hectares, but it has come under fire in the past.

The Forest Certification Assessment Guide by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) cited several weaknesses in the PEFC scheme. Among them was that the scheme does not exclude wood from the conversion of natural forests to plantations or other land-uses.

It also does not exclude wood harvested from areas where the rights of indigenous communities might have been violated, so long as the activities are accepted as legal in the country of origin.

Despite that, a 2010 review by Central Point of Expertise on Timber Procurement, a service that advises on responsible purchasing in line with the British government’s timber procurement policy, stated that PEFC has made improvements since its last review, among them are the passing of new social criteria, and ensuring “conversion” and “national implementation” criteria were met.

The report also said that with regards to Malaysian timber, only those with PEFC certification should be accepted. The group said it should be consulted for non-PEFC certified Malaysian timber due to concerns over indigenous people’s land rights.

It is not all peaches and cream for FSC either. Criticisms hurled against it have been that it also certifies industrial tree plantations, which drains water supply and lack biodiversity, and thus “lack social and environmental sustainability”. There are also accusations that the contractual relationship between certifiers and logging companies leads to more leniency in the auditing process.

Groups like WWF and Greenpeace, however, maintain support for FSC. They are aware of FSC’s shortcomings but still consider it the best certification scheme around by far.

A 2011 comparative study between FSC and PEFC by public policy consultants ITS Global Additional stated that FSC standards have little guarantee of long-term consistency, and do not necessarily reflect national interests. It said while the PEFC was established to demonstrate which products originated from sustainably managed forests, FSC exists to advance specific forestry objectives, including the halting of any further conversion of natural forest land for other purposes.

The report stated that governments have largely refused to pursue FSC’s objective due to conflict with national interests and development goals. (It might be worth noting that ITS Global Additional is a consultant for the PEFC council.) – By Natalie Heng

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