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The current set of international forest governance arrangements is best seen as a complex hybrid mix of international law, soft law, and non-governmental performance-based measures such as international certification schemes and industry codes of conduct. A diverse array of organizations and interest groups, all with different mandates, create the institutional environment for forest policy and governance. All of these actors are dedicated to supporting the different functions of forests, developing and implementing measures designed to protect the forest benefits, and interacting – often in a competitive manner – with each other for political and financial support at different levels. There are an increasing number of governance challenges, such as the demand for bioenergy and legally harvested and produced timber (e.g. EU Timber Regulation on banning illegal timber products from the EU market, to be applied in early 2013). There is clear evidence from research that complex forest problems require synergistic approaches involving a wide range of policy instruments.
There are two concepts that could guide efforts towards a more effective international forest governance: problem focused policy learning is enabled by including from the start a broad group of stakeholders and institutions inside and outside of the forest sector and by gathering practical advice, practitioners’ knowledge, insights and the best available research. In addition, impacts between various policies and policy levels need to be better understood. Improved institutional intersection, in which different interventions perform specific functions, might lead to adaptive capacities in ways a single institution could not. In order to improve the understanding and practical application of these two concepts, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is currently establishing a new Task Force on International Forest Governance to address institutional intersection and policy learning.
A Contribution to Forest Europe
Policy learning and institutional intersection may support and guide the implementation of commitments declared in the ‘Oslo Ministerial Decision: European Forests 2020′, such as the European Ministers’ decision: (i) to develop and update policies and tools for sustainable forest management, including by facilitating open and flexible policy dialogue; (ii) to monitor, assess and facilitate implementation of commitments on sustainable forest management in all European countries and in the region; and (iii) to facilitate sharing of experiences across countries, sectors and stakeholders on all aspects of sustainable forest management and other forest related issues (see articles 21a-c).
The state of play of European forest governance and challenges
- European regional agreements with regard to governance include the Oslo Ministerial Mandate for Negotiating a Legally Binding Agreement on Forests in Europe, and the EU FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Action Plan, setting the goal of combating illegal harvesting and illegal timber trade in environment, trade and development cooperation policies.
- With these developments, domestic challenges arise. There is fragmentation of institutions and authority in addressing key goals. For example, good forest governance was originally seen as a development issue, but has become a trade issue also. The EU and Member States are facing the challenge to link the development agencies with the trade agencies and to find synergistic ways how to work together, that do not violate the legal responsibilities of either.
- As Europe with FLEGT is commending good governance elsewhere in such a coherent and concerned way, the EU and Member States are facing the challenge to also demonstrate good forest governance within the region in order to not lose legitimacy and credibility at international level.
What research can do
- Defining and implementing interaction between trade, development and natural resource policies is not as simple as it might seem. Researchers can uncover the pathways through which synergies could be facilitated by new institutional arrangements and new policy approaches. For example, incentives and signals from FLEGT could encourage supply chain tracking, often through the use of certification bodies, which then help to reinforce good forest governance in developing countries.
- Researchers have an ability to identify: what are the most synergistic pathways for interactions between the different actors and entities? And what does this mean for developing strategic directions and decisions in order to guide actors with often conflicting mandates and diverse institutional cultures? What are the obstacles for the formulation and implementation of policies and institutions fostering ‘good’ governance principles?
- Policy learning is the attempt to adjust the goals or techniques of policy in response to past experience and new information. In the complex context of European forest policy, policy learning can only begin when stakeholders, practitioners, government agencies, civil society organizations, and scientists create, through deliberation, a joint understanding of the context and nature of forest problems from a wide variety of perspectives. The success of this learning process depends upon having the best available information about policy options as informed by research, practice, and the experience of civil society.
- Policy learning that occurs in a deliberative process will expose legitimate differences over goals and objectives that divide stakeholders but, by creating a common understanding of ‘how things work’, policy learning also can reveal win-win solutions. For example, at the same time that participants learn about the viability of one or more efforts – such as FLEGT, certification and management plans etc. – they learn about the challenges confronting other stakeholders.
- The most important level of learning about potential solutions to public problems is at the level of intersection of institutions. It simply is no longer the case that a single intervention sits alone by itself and has no impact anywhere else. In fact any international negotiation or deliberation only has an impact when it actually interacts with something else, e.g. with domestic legislation or certification or national forest programmes.
- There is a role for research simultaneously involving practitioners and civil society to analyse the different interactions among government and market mechanisms across global, national and local scales that might produce innovative, effective and enduring results.
- For example, the supply chain tracking in the framework of the FLEGT process involves public and private actors at different levels – sub-nationally, nationally and internationally – and therefore could lead to broad global coalition for good forest governance in a way a single intervention, such as private certification schemes can not achieve.
- The institutional intersection approach is now gaining growing acceptance as illustrated by the UN Rio 2012 summit’s focus on the two themes: ‘green economy’ and ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’.
What can Forest Europe do?
- Forest Europe can play a key role in promoting policy learning and institutional intersection by sharing a learning platform involving multiple stakeholders, informed by the best available information about policy options.
- It can facilitate stakeholder and civil society participation at domestic level by creating forums for deliberation with scientists, policy makers, and forest managers at local, sub-national and national levels. For example, the national forest programme process could be a national-level learning forum.
- It can support engagement of policy makers in scientific meetings focused on governance and policy, such as the IUFRO All-Division 9 ‘Forest Policy and Economics’ Conference in Sarajevo in May 2012.
- It can support policy-research networks, like the FOPER network in Southeast Europe, that are actively researching public problems identified through stakeholder processes with the purpose of contributing to policy makers, practitioners and civil society as well as to the research community.
- And it can actively promote the role of Forest Europe in the global discussion on forest governance by assuming a leadership role in creating the institutional capacity for policy learning and collaborative research necessary to provide adaptive governance capacity for the future.
Embracing complexity: Meeting the challenges of international forest governance. A global assessment report. This report was prepared in the frame of the Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP), an initiative established within the framework of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The report was led and coordinated by IUFRO. Visit: http://www.iufro.org/science/gfep/
The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the only world-wide organization devoted to forest research and related sciences. Its members are research institutions, universities, and individual scientists as well as decision-making authorities and other stakeholders with a focus on forests and trees. Visit: http://www.iufro.org/
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