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“Forest Issues Must Be Tackled With A Multi Spectral Approach”

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-Says Ambassador Delahousse

MONROVIA: The European Union’s Head of Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, says forest issues in Liberia must be tackled with a multi spectral approach aimed at focusing on all drivers of deforestation.

He said integrated (combined) approaches and solutions have to include agriculture, mining, financial sector, private sector, justice, biodiversity conservation, infrastructure and education sectors etc.

“We have to start thinking and acting in a systemic way,” the EU Diplomat stressed.
Speaking on the Theme: “Implementing International Commitments to support Forest Governance,” the EU Envoy noted that forest issues must be mainstreamed in all policies which are always on the top of agenda.

Ambassador Delahousse made the statements at the opening of a two-day Liberia Forest and Climate Resilience Forum, held at the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (EJS) Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, outside Monrovia recently.

“We need to have a problem-solving attitude, and to act where the impacts occur, in particular at community forests level, where most of forestry activities are concentrated,” he said.

According to him, the territorial management and land use management at landscape and community levels have to be developed, in addition to promoting effective decentralization.

He told the gathering that, a particular priority accorded the creation of synergies with biodiversity conservation, promoting ecological corridors and larger buffer zones with protected areas.

He indicated that focus needs to be placed on community forests at different levels, especially on governance, livelihood alternatives and sustainable forestry practices.

“We have to find a good balance between forest conservation and commercial and logging activities at community forest level. We must look for innovative ways to compensate community foresting, based on measurable results, to encourage more sustainable choices and behaviors, and by all means including green and carbon financing,” he said.

He emphasized the need for authorities to ensure that, when green and carbon financing mechanisms are in place, funds will effectively reach the communities.

“Beyond the VPA and in the context of its holistic approach to forest, since COP 27, the European Union has launched Forests Partnerships with five countries (Guyana, Mongolia, the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Zambia) by signing tailor-made MoUs. I invite the Government of Liberia to assess this opportunity and join the other five countries in their ambitions,” he indicated.

He disclosed that, they are improving policies and revising laws and regulations, for commercial forestry to be more sustainable.

Ambassador Delahousse, quoting the Liberian leader said, “of course, there are still challenges and issues, but we remain unrelenting in our efforts to deal with them sooner, rather than later, under my leadership, we will surmount these challenges in order to ensure that forest resources benefit all Liberians.”

Ambassador Delahousse: “Those were the words of His Excellency President George Manneh Weah yesterday morning at the opening of our meeting.”

He indicated that Liberia is indeed a party to many international commitments relating to forests.

He recalled that in 2011, Liberia signed with the European Union and ratified in 2013, a Voluntary Partnership Agreement within the framework of the European Union’s strategy to tackle illegal logging set out in the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in 2003.

This Partnership Agreement, he stated, is a binding bilateral trade agreement which aims to strengthen governance and law enforcement in the forestry sector.

The European Union’s Head of Delegation also said through a licensing system, it provides the assurance that the timber has been legally produced.

He pointed out that the VPA signed with the EU demonstrates the Government of Liberia’s commitment to improve accountability and transparency in the sector.

As a result of poor management of forest resources and illegality in the sector in the past, Liberian timbers did not have a good reputation on international markets.

He told the gathering that the VPA is intended to offer clear assurances that Liberian timber products come from verified legal sources.

“Like the negotiation, the implementation of the VPA involves a wide range of stakeholders and helps Liberia to develop its capacity in forest management amongst both government agencies, such as the FDA, and forest users, including commercial operators and local communities,” he stated.

Ambassador Delahousse pointed out that it requires stronger monitoring and oversight of forestry activities by an independent auditor.

According to him, although the focus of the VPA is on trade with the EU market, its scope is much broader.

He noted that Liberia has decided to apply the same Legality Assurance System (LAS) to timber products destined for all international markets and to timber products sold in Liberia including charcoals.

Ambassador Delahousse also disclosed that many efforts have been made by Liberia prior to the conclusion of the VPA in 2011 with the support of the EU and the United Kingdom to reform the forestry sector, increasing access to timber resources and improving transparency.

He maintains that these efforts include a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework of the sector, the development of a national timber traceability system (Liber trace) tracking of timber production and payment of revenues, and a reform of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

“Liberia was the first country to include timber revenues under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), when it became the first African country to achieve EITI compliance in 2008.

In recognition of the progress made, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions in 2006, thus opening the way for Liberia to rebuild its forest sector,” he noted.

Ambassador Delahousse stressed that the Government of Liberia has, through this reform process, shown its commitment to implement strong systems for control and verification of legal timber harvesting and production for international and domestic markets.

He added that the current situation is worrying despite the important progress made in the past, noting that they cannot say that the process is evolving today as it should or on the contrary, they have a feeling of regression.

Ambassador Delahousse emphasized that Liberia is far from delivering FLEGT licenses. He indicated that this objective was set for 2012 and rescheduled for last year 2022 and even this date, 10 years later than the first objective, was not met, and by far.

Ambassador Delahousse noted that, it is essential that statements, official declarations, international commitments like –just to quote one – the National Determined Contributions to act on climate change, are accompanied by consistent and coherent actions.

He said it is faced with a rather dramatic situation regarding deforestation (the figures I have is that it reaches 3% in Liberia and I know that there is a debate on the figures and we need to certainly clarify that debate), which they haven’t seen enough pertinent and timely actions.

He said what they have seen is rather an attitude of sometimes casual satisfaction, if not denial, as if everything was fine, as if just having the forest should entitle Liberia to receive funds from the international community, because those funds would somehow be owed to Liberia. “But climate finance just doesn’t work like that,” he stressed.

Ambassador Delahousse also said the international community measures and takes into consideration the efforts, the operational commitments and the policies.

He said Investors do not put their money on the status quo or on promises, they invest in concrete prospects of obtaining tangible results.

He noted that it is even more important when they talk about green bonds, where investors are invited to finance strategic plans and concrete actions. Trust, transparency and credibility are therefore fundamental.

“As for coherence, let me just mention the conflicts between policies and laws, for instance with mining, or judicial orders to deliver export permits for illegally harvested timber, when the law provides for confiscation of such timber,” he said.

Ambassador Delahousse said development partners made a great effort to support the creation of a forest governance system in Liberia, especially in the framework of the VPA FLEGT.

He said that they invested millions of dollars in funding and technical assistance but many challenges are still there which undermine the efforts that have been made.

“Let me mention three of those challenges. Liberia has well, if not very good laws and regulations but too often they are not enforced sufficiently,” he declared.

Sustainability is often a misused concept, but when it comes to natural resources, we have a clear idea of what unsustainable means.

“It means forest degradation, depletion of the resources, the loss of environmental services with a global decrease of the “flow of well-being”, as environment economists would say, for current and future generations,” he said.

He pointed out that, the “forestry system” in Liberia is barely sustainable and it is characterized, technically speaking, by too short rotations, by the lack of proper forest management plans, by illegal logging, which are all real threats to forest regeneration and which affect the commercial and the global value of the forest.

“From an economic point of view, and this is an opinion we have at the EU Delegation, the revenue obtained from the forest sector is too limited compared to what the sector should yield,” he maintained.

He asserted that the benefits accruing to a limited number of people and companies are probably lower than the environmental and social costs for the country and its population.

Ambassador Delahousse noted that the added values in the forest sector are limited due to very low processing and transformation of forest products in Liberia.

The EU Envoy: “We need to work on a sector that operates on value and not just on quantity.”

“From a social point of view, I already mentioned that benefit sharing for communities is deficient. I would say that conditions are not met for communities to promote and adopt sound and sustainable forestry management,” Ambassador Delahousse said.

He narrated that Livelihood conditions, lack of land use planning, lack of capacity and adequate compensation mechanisms are some elements that should be tackled in order to promote a good balance between forest conservation and logging activities at community forest level.

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