Experts: Stable governance, trade frameworks needed to tip Asia toward green economy

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Despite preventive measures, complex laws and policies governing forest resources in Asia are often undermined by corrupt and illegal activities that hinder attempts to develop a “greener” economy in the region, experts said at a recent conference.

Improved checks and balances would lead to greater transparency, enabling the development of a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive “green” economic framework, said experts at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta.

A green economy could also help in sustainably managing natural resources in the face of increasing demands for food, fuel and other commodities. “The forestry sector is especially vulnerable to illegality and corruption due to financial incentives related to illegal resource use,” said Andrew Wardell, former research director of the forests and governance portfolio at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Wardell led a panel debate at the Summit on how governance and legal frameworks can promote sustainable land use. “Although considerable progress has been made and continues to be made, there are a considerable number of initiatives that still need the test of time to show to what extent they are contributing to improving governance — there are still many challenges,” said Wardell, who now leads CIFOR’s Research Capacity and Partnership Development based at CIRAD, a French agricultural research institute.

SUSTAINABLE FOUNDATIONS

Several institutions have already been established to address these challenges. In recent years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created resources including “Roadmap for an ASEAN Community” and the “ASEAN Political Security Community Blueprint” to strengthen the rule of law, bolster anti-corruption measures, and reduce transnational and transboundary crimes, including crimes related to natural resources.

The ASEAN Political Security Community Blueprint aims to integrate Asia into the global economy by helping promote the movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and capital while improving livelihoods through poverty alleviation. Its mandate includes establishing a regional framework to apply forest certification controls by 2015 to help strengthen efforts to combat illegal logging and its associated trade.

Forest certification, shown in a recent CIFOR study to improve working conditions and benefit local livelihoods, tackles deforestation and forest degradation by ensuring timber is produced according to specific standards.

Another initiative, the Indonesia-European Union Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), is central to the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan, designed to ensure only legally sourced timber and wood products gain access to EU markets. Indonesia adopted the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) in 2009 to help establish legal compliance of timber producers.

“The FLEGT action plan places the legal burden on importers to demonstrate that they are importing only legal timber,” said Olof Skoog, EU Ambassador to ASEAN, in a talk delivered at the Summit. “Difficult, complicated and very technical negotiations have been ongoing, inspired on both sides by the same vision and goals, namely to combat illegal logging in Indonesia and to promote the export of legal timber from Indonesia to the lucrative EU market,” he said.

LAND RIGHTS

Yet insecure land titles and unclear land-use, forest-use and land-tenure rights in Southeast Asia continue to hinder the ability of rural poor to improve their livelihoods, restrict the potential for transparency in governance, and hold back the establishment of a sustainable green economic framework, panelists at the Summit said.

Moreover, women, indigenous and other marginalized groups are often excluded from decision-making, rights and access to forest resources.

In 2012, an Indonesian court ruling affirmed the constitutional rights of indigenous people over territories including lands and customary forests. In some cases, though, indigenous groups have been imprisoned and fined after their ancestral lands were nationalized under Indonesian government laws aimed at preventing illegal logging, said Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago. The government was unable to produce any legal documents or maps showing the boundaries of the national park, Sombolinggi said, adding that at least 2.4 million hectares of indigenous lands have been mapped, but the effort has not been officially accepted by Indonesia’s “one map” policy.

“The main homework of this country is we need the reorganization and restructuring of tenure control,” she said. “We have to have equal power among all the ministries and institutions to deal with resources.”

In spite of difficulties understanding different claims, rights and interests of national or provincial-level governments, jurisdictional approaches can be used to effectively establish a means to address sensitive power struggles, Wardell said.

Jurisdictional approaches to planning, decision-making and governing land- based investments may aid in making a shift to more sustainable or green development, he added.

A recent study has also highlighted the recursive relationship between “private” and “state” actors in the informal timber trade between Vietnam and Laos and the scope for mobility between such categories — suggesting that strengthening international and national law enforcement efforts needs to be combined with developing a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationships that characterize and perpetuate corruption across multiple scales.

For more information on the topics discussed in this story, please contact Andrew Wardell at a.wardell@cgiar.org.