Alison Hoare
Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources
The FLEGT timber licence marks a breakthrough in the battle against illegal logging and has the potential to help towards achieving the SDGs in the forest sector and beyond.
Collected logs along a river in West Kalimantan province, Indonesia. Photo by Getty Images.Collected logs along a river in West Kalimantan province, Indonesia. Photo by Getty Images.

Today Indonesia begins issuing the first ever FLEGT licenses for timber exports bound for the EU market. A major step in the battle against illegal logging and trade in illegal timber, these licenses are issued under a national system to verify the legality of all timber and timber products. A commitment to licensing its timber exports to Europe was made in the country’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU, although the licensing system applies to all exports and to the domestic market. The scale of this achievement can not be underestimated given the size of the country and of its forest sector – there are hundreds of thousands of forest enterprises ranging from large-scale concession holders and processing industries, to smallholders and micro-scale loggers, saw-millers and manufacturers.

It is also remarkable given the state of Indonesia’s forest sector at the turn of the century. Looking back to 2000, rule of law was all but absent and corruption was rife - with the allocation of concessions and timber industries closely tied with the country’s ruling elite. Widespread logging contributed to the high rates of deforestation seen at the turn of the century, which stood at over one per cent per year.

In 2016, the forest sector is vastly different – there are much higher levels of accountability and legal compliance, the result of the considerable effort and resources that have been put into enforcement and anti-corruption efforts. The sector is also much more open, reflected both in the significant improvements in the availability of forest data and legislation as well as the increased space that has been made available to civil society to participate both in policy processes and in monitoring of the sector.

These improvements are the result in large part of the reform processes that have been enabled and supported by the VPA process, for which negotiations began in 2007. However, the process is far from complete and the issuance of FLEGT licences is best viewed as a marking point in an ongoing trajectory towards establishing a legal and sustainable sector.

If we take 2000 as the starting point of this trajectory, with FLEGT licensing as the midway point, this brings us to just beyond 2030, the target date for the UN’s global agenda for sustainable development of which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are an integral part. The SDGs provide a broader framework for considering what further progress is needed in the coming years both to improve legality and to ensure that the forest sector makes a positive contribution towards achieving widespread sustainable development in Indonesia.

There are a number of factors that risk the achievement of these aims. Key challenges that remain in the country’s forest sector include the high levels of informality in the small-scale sector, corruption, limited transparency and pressure on forests from other sectors (as highlighted in the report 'Illegal Logging and Related Trade. The Response in Indonesia').

As noted, there are hundreds of thousands of forest enterprises in the country, many of which – particularly small-scale businesses – operate informally. Further concerted efforts are needed to ensure that these enterprises are not excluded from the formal market, but are able to contribute to a thriving economy – for example, through continued support for certification, as well as much greater investment in the provision of extension services and further reforms to establish a policy framework that facilitates the growth of small businesses (see 'Improving Legality Among Small-Scale Forest Enterprises'). This will make an important contribution to the achievement of SDG 8, to enable ‘decent work and economic growth’, this including the target [8.3] to encourage the growth of small enterprises.

Both corruption and limited transparency also need to be addressed if widespread legality and sustainability are to be achieved in the forest sector. Transparency has improved greatly in the forest sector, with significant improvements to the availability of information and the establishment of independent monitoring by civil society. However, further progress is needed to improve the accessibility of information, not least to ensure that NGOs are able to fulfil this monitoring role. In relation to corruption, the anti-corruption agency has made good progress, but it remains under threat and needs to be strengthened. Improving governance is a priority under the SDGs, Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) including targets to reduce corruption, develop transparent institutions and ensure public access to information.  

The progress made in these areas also needs to be replicated outside the forest sector. A major threat to Indonesia’s forests comes from conversion to other land-uses, in particular agricultural plantations. Effective land-use planning, including transparent and participatory decision-making, is needed if the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources is to be achieved and deforestation slowed – as set out under SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 15 (life on land).

An important means to drive progress is to ensure close monitoring of progress as well as the evaluation of the measures being adopted. A framework for monitoring the impact of FLEGT licences, as well as the related measures being implemented under the VPA, is under development. This will need to link up to national efforts to monitor progress towards the SDGs – both to contribute towards the monitoring of these goals and to facilitate communication of the progress and lessons being learnt in the forest sector.

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