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Bad governance: can global environmental policy make a difference?

Time (GMT +00) 09:30 11:30


Dr Gill Shepherd - ODI


Simon Maxwell - ODI Director

Simon Maxwell, opened the meeting, remarking how rich the forestry experience is in terms of new insights into good governance, because it is such a valuable resource with strong cross-sectoral linkages. Today's meeting would pull together the themes of previous meetings under this series, including participation, decentralisation and the role of donors, and will address whether global environmental policy can make a difference.

Gill Shepherd introduced participants to a whole series of international treaties that bear on forests, but added that no one instrument brings them all together. The prevailing view favours stronger synergies between these instruments, rather than trying to negotiate a new one. However, it remains to be seen whether better synergies will come to anything.

Dr Shepherd explained that a forestry agreement was not achieved at Rio. Since then, the forestry community has run through two consultation processes and is currently in its third - the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), with its guiding body the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) (which has just had its second meeting).

As time goes by, it is getting clearer that the moment for a forest convention has probably gone, if there was one. Dr Shepherd argued that people are losing interest having seen how difficult it is to reach agreement. Other convention processes, including the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol, have also disillusioned actors about how easily synergy and agreement can be reached through cumbersome UN processes.

There are three key forest-related conventions:

  1. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), through the use of forests to off-set carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. It does not currently include the protection of natural forests.
  2. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is revising its programme of work on forest biodiversity (forests will be one of three key themes to be discussed at it up-coming meeting in the Hague). Dr Shepherd argued that, while the CBD leads on the indigenous forest-peoples (because of their specialist biodiversity knowledge) , it is less concerned with their legal, economic or cultural rights, or the national governance issues that affect them.
  3. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) - since deforestation and desertification clearly go together. Dr Shepherd argued that those who negotiated the UNCCD were alert to socio-economic and poverty issues. The convention addresses local livelihoods in marginal areas, the role of sustainable forest management as part of sustainable agriculture, and the reduction of rural poverty. All these have good governance potential, but there remains little interest in funding the Convention. Arguably, it was negotiated and agreed at Rio as a way of encouraging developing countries to accept the CBD (which the north had greater interest in).

Other relevant international instruments and fora include: the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) (an agreement between the main commercial producers and buyers, and a powerful lobby); the WTO (which affects forests as it does other productive sectors); the Ramsar Convention (on wetlands); the World Heritage Convention (many World Heritage sites in the tropics are also forests); the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Convention (which some feel might help address the poverty and local people dimensions of forests).

However, as Dr Shepherd remarked, ITTO has a strong producer-country base and is hence reluctant to pass any measure that might look like a trade restriction, whether it address incentives, labelling, or trade in endangered species. As a traders' club, it has done much to secure good quality trade but does not provide much leverage for improved governance at national and international levels. She also said the WTO Committee on Trade and the Environment was only now beginning to discuss issues of eco-labelling and certification of sustainable forest management. But it is weak on forest knowledge and requires linkages with other processes.

Dr Shepherd argued that this clutch of multilateral instruments present a very patchy picture. Some topics are well covered, other are covered by overlapping agreements (leading to competition and lack of forward direction), and some are missed out entirely. Although biodiversity and climate change issues are well-covered, with their own multilateral agreements, complications arise in relation to timber production, as well as wood- and non-wood forest products. There are real gaps in relation to rural livelihoods and forests. Even though the UNCCD and Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Conventions address these issues, they are financially weak and the ITPC has only 14 signatories. Environmental service functions (including watershed protection, soil conservation and erosion control) remain under-recognised by this package of multilateral instruments.

Dr Shepherd felt that multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are struggling with forests, and have not arrived at a good governance arrangement amongst themselves. Some have been discredited by wealthy countries escaping their commitments. They are therefore in a weak position to offer a good governance framework internationally. Weak MEAs also send conflicting messages to competing ministries, in many cases widening the gulf between ministries of forests that have most to do with UNFF, and ministries of wildlife, environment and energy, with most to do with the CBD and UNFCCC. These differences are hard to resolve at national level, even with cross-ministerial environmental frameworks in place. Furthermore, because of these gaps and overlaps between MEAs, a clever government which wishes to can pick and choose, and avoid pro-poor, pro-transparency change that is not legally essential or is not backed by core funds.

But multilateral negotiations have also placed intense international focus on forests, and money to go with it, for an extended period. Many changes in national-level policy over the past ten years would not have happened but for multilateral dialogue. Dr Shepherd argued that even the failures of these negotiations have arguably had positive impacts. The failure to reach agreement on a forest convention prompted support (including amongst donors) for country-led national forest programmes (nfps). These place forest governance at the centre of national-level debate and often in parallel with PRSPs. Like PRSPs, nfps vary hugely from country to country. Some have been truly excellent, bringing all the divergent parties to the table and creating far more synthesis and synergy than at the international level.

Dr Shepherd said that, through the influence of MEAs, multi-stakeholder involvement is now much more the norm, at local, national and international levels, spanning NGOs, government, and civil society. Many of these groups have struggled to be heard at the international level but so are now automatically listened to nationally.

Dr Shepherd added that there have also been multilateral attempts to establish standards for sustainable forest management. Criteria and indicators for sustainable for management were developed, tested and are now used to build national-level pictures. Certification for sustainable forest management has developed in parallel. And although certification is not a universal panacea (it is not always economic for every developing country to produce timber to certification standards), the fact that it is working in some places, and that criteria for arriving at certification are in place, have made a big difference.

With these developments has come recognition that forests need to be managed for a broader set of stakeholders and that timber production is not enough. Forests provide a range of products of interest to different sets of people, some intangible, including environmental service functions.

Dr Shepherd also added that some conservation organisations (in particular IUCN and WWF) are now beginning to give greater attention to poverty reduction, a shift partly in response to donor-led issues, but also as a result of the need to bridge the divide between the UNFF and the CBD. IUCN and WWF in turn needs to work with deeper green conservation organisations who still maintain a more anti-people line on conservation, and are in some cases able to raise enormous sums for doing so.

In conclusion, said Dr Shepherd, as earlier talks in this series have shown, good governance often comes from below and is the result of, rather than a prerequisite, for good forest management. What's more, countries tend to copy one another. The earliest experiences in involving local people began in tropical dry forests. This has now spread to higher-value moist forest areas. In the same way, forest MEAs are more likely to be shaped by good practice at the national level. Nevertheless, the existence of the post-Rio multilateral process had created an environment in which much experimentation and learning has been able to take place.


The Chair initiated discussion with a question - how might we know whether a forest MEA could deliver the goods, given the complex, interlocking institutions that characterise the forest sector?

One participant, previously involved with MEAs and their financing mechanisms, commented that the UNFCCC and the CBD were best developed and best funded (with the GEF covering the incremental costs of implementation) because they safeguarded northern interests. Failure of these agreements carried long-term consequences. By contrast desertification (often seen only as land degradation) received much less attention, or was perceived as merely integral to the development process. He also remarked on how the involvement of local people can radically widen the agenda. Empowering these constituencies therefore presents a real challenge.

One other participant remarked that the north partly backed the UNFCCC and the CBD because of the huge business opportunities involved. She added that these agreements might function better if negotiated regionally, with southern countries sticking together.

Another member of the audience thought that the UNFCCC and CBD differed from other multilateral instruments such as the WTO because they began from scratch. They were not attempting to regulate areas that were already subject to national regulations (unlike trade and the financial agenda). Why then do some countries have an interest in the MEAs? Whereas you can assume national interest in trade issues given the impact of tariffs, you cannot just assume national interest in MEAs. How do you deal with countries who are legitimately not interested? Do you have a right to make countries take an interest? Perhaps one solution might be plurilateral agreements such as the old GATT, that accept that only 15 - 20 countries might have an interest.

Gill Shepherd commented that the new round of work on PRSPs has renewed attention to forests, as a source of poverty reduction. People are beginning to think about forests more in terms of PRSPs than they are in terms of MEAs. Nevertheless, MEAs provide an important backdrop for national-level policy change.

A participant remarked on the complex and proliferated institutional framework governing climate change, and thought that forestry suffered similar fragmentation. He highlighted calls for a World Environment Organisation, though felt that the conventions had become stuck in their current modus operandi, despite the potential synergies between them.

An economist in the audience spoke about the economics of deforestation, saying that the high rents involved logically led to bad governance. He said that MEAs could create a regulatory basis for sustainable forest management. In particular he regretted the lack of any system of international transfer payments. No market place yet exists for the non-market environmental and biodiversity values offered by forests. But he felt that MEAs were currently too concerned with procedural matters to make a significant difference. Furthermore, the type of forestry promoted by the UNFCC is neither pro-poor, nor good for the environment. He said that more and more people were therefore looking outside MEAs for solutions. He added that the recent Katumba Conference had explored potential for exerting pressure on industry, pension funds and the stock exchange, given MNC's increasing concern for their green image and the rise of socially responsible investment.

Another member of the audience cautioned against overstating the role of forests in carbon sequestration. He felt that the focus on carbon sinks (by countries including the US that have a lot of forest) was an excuse not to deal with the main issues.

Gill Shepherd commented that it remained to be seen whether and how the very rich that had been brought to the table would spend their money. She also said that the fact that international negotiations were not up to scratch did not mean they were not worth having. None of these changes and innovations would have happened had it not been for the international process.

A participant thought that the leading role of NGOs (in particular IUCN and its Environmental Law Centre) in initiating and drafting these MEAs needed acknowledging. But she also thought these MEAs had given rise to sectoral clubs and did not share the view that the CBD in particular was having much impact on forest governance. She described the CBD as a comfortable club of "biologists talking to biologists" with little focus on pro-poor issues. It did not seem in anyone's interest to link across conventions, nor could any profession make those links.

Another participant highlighted the UNEP process on International Environmental Governance and the hope that WSSD would provide an opportunity to address institutional fragmentation. But he thought that the divisions between convention secretariats were very deep and hard to resolve. Furthermore, certain countries have opposed stronger synergies, preventing them from picking and choosing their obligations, and even forcing compliance across conventions. Greater cross-sectoral integration was happening at the national level within the framework of nfps. He highlighted a European donor initiative to co-ordinate support for nfps through a Code of Conduct for forest sector development co-operation.

A participant also highlighted the leading role of forest certification and national standards committees in pushing forward good governance at the national level - more so than other institutions such as the UNFF which left people disillusioned and frustrated. In Guyana, certification had prompted a good discussion of what constitutes good governance. But another participant cautioned that the Guyana experience had been very conflictual and had suffered a number of set backs. She then discussed the role of plantations in sustainable forest management, arguing that perhaps too much emphasis had been place on logging of natural forests. She also said that national markets were expanding faster than international, yet remained poorly regulated and were subject to numerous distortions including pricing mechanisms, e.g. for finished products. She suggested that hardwood markets were structured very differently from plywood markets. Each needed very different regulations.

With respect to wildlife and tourism, a participant wondered why wildlife was left to conservation departments and was not seen as an economic asset, e.g. by the economics or finance ministries, or in relation to PRSPs. She wondered what success forestry had had with this type of mainstreaming?

Gill Shepherd agreed that NGOs did much to bring issues to the table. In that same way, IUCN and WWF are leading the way on poverty issues among conservation organisations, and those involved in the CBD may follow suit. She agreed that the link between MEAs and action at national and sub-national levels was poor, but reiterated that international dialogue was still necessary to get donor and government attention at the national-level. She acknowledged that certification had arisen outside the MEA arena, but noted that it arose out of the debates about sustainable forest management which were a key part of Rio and the Forestry For a which followed it.
Dr Shepherd thought that increasing private-sector initiatives, including the Forest Stewardship Council (which sets certification standards) offered a useful counterbalance to ITTO-led initiatives. She strongly agreed with the importance of tackling national-level regulation, including appropriate deregulation to encourage a shift towards pro-poor forestry.

The Chair asked whether MEAs have teeth. What sanctions exist? One participant highlighted the compliance mechanisms under the Kyoto and Biosafety Protocols. Another participant also commented on sanctions for MEA violations. She wondered how a violation could be sanctioned if that violation did not actually harm another state (unlike violation of trade rules including tariff barriers). She also felt that making aid dependent on MEA compliance had the potential to distort and damage the donor-recipient relationship and even the MEA itself, given that an MEA is supposedly an agreement between equals.

With respect to the Kyoto Protocol another member of the audience remarked that compliance forced countries into agreeing to measures affecting their economy, agriculture and forests that they might in reality find impossible to implement. She felt that this acted as a strong deterrent for countries to sign up to the Protocol's compliance mechanism, adding that Japan had favoured a managed approach based on changes in technology.

Gill Shepherd felt it remained to be seen how effective the European donor code of conduct might be. As previous experience with Forest Partnership Agreements suggests, countries may resent co-ordinated donor pressure. She also thought that, in reality, aid and MEA implementation cannot be separated. With respect to the future, she thought that the move by the CBD and conservation organisations to adopt a broader, pro-people vision of forests was encouraging. But she warned that, if bilateral donors were to lose interest in the sustainable use and livelihood aspects of forests, we would be left with rich NGOs promoting a strong conservationist line where forests were concerned, and would lose the opportunity to improve governance in the context of forests.

The Chair closed the meeting by drawing parallels to controversies over the efficacy and fairness of the WTO. There are numerous lessons to share, and he highlighted the need to open up discussion between foresters and the wider international development group.


The forestry experience offers new insights into good governance, because it is such a valuable resource with strong cross-sectoral linkages. Today's meeting would pull together the themes of previous meetings under this series, including participation, decentralisation and the role of donors, and will address whether global environmental policy can make a difference.