What happened and why was the regulation made, and then revoked? And more importantly, what are the lessons learned for enforcing timber legality in Indonesia and throughout the world?
There were reactions to regulation 15/2020 both in favour and against. Some claimed that this sudden cancellation of the verification system would result in an increase in illegal logging, while others were supportive as the relaxation of verification requirements would make Indonesian producers more competitive. HIMKI, a national furniture association, had signalled a cancellation of SVLK several months before the policy change took place, but is in favour of reforming, not cancelling the system, with a primary concern for smallholders.
Dala, in partnership with the University East Anglia, University Gadhah Mada, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and Vietnamese Academy for Social Sciences, studied FLEGT from 2016 to 2019. We found that smaller producers were unable to comply with the rigorous system, meaning they either went out of business, changed the products they produced or conducted business illegally. In the case of Indonesia, smaller producers were often forced to use larger producers’ permits (ironically driving them to conduct business illegally). Ultimately, larger producers were able to thrive and smaller producers faltered. The system also served to further entrench state control over forest resources, having negative implications for claimants fo forest rights that were not aligned with the state. We said that FLEGT wasn’t all bad, but was based in the same neo-liberal logics of past failed attempts to address environmental issues through market-based mechanisms. Ultimately, the collapse of the Indonesia timber verification system would have been an extreme validation of what we found, but even the teetering within the Ministry of Trade, especially against the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which has been officially in favour of timber legality verification, mirror many of our findings. As a research project, we never took a position that FLEGT should be cancelled, but we signalled in several papers that there were weaknesses that presented fissures in the systems and dissent among some actors in the global timber production network that could jeopardise its ultimate effectiveness.
FLEGT has been a main EU strategy to address illegal logging and climate change. Past initiatives by exporting countries such as log export bans have proven ineffective, and although Indonesia has had a logging moratorium in place since 2011, it has not lived up to its expectations due to a lack of enforcement. In the last three years, however, Indonesia has seen a reduction in deforestation rates, which could be related to improved implementation of the now permanent moratorium of converting forestland. Deforestation remains a major problem in rainforests throughout the world. Australia, Japan have been developing regulations similar to the EU Timber Regulations, and the US has a regulation in place, but none have been as extensive as the EU in terms of reaching out to exporting countries to facilitate compliance.
We now reflect that at very least these policy tensions should be a wake-up call to policy-makers, not only in Indonesia but throughout the world, to consider the ways that FLEGT can be improved in the absence of a politically-accepted alternative mechanism to address illegal logging. This clearly means that there is room for improvement. Cancelling timber legality verification without a suitable replacement might have been, as many commenters noted, disastrous for forests. Timber legality verification is only one of a number of tools that can be used to reduce deforestation. In countries where implementation has begun, policies and programmes often fail to accommodate the constraints that small producers have to participate in markets, and do not address the omnipresent failure of the state to recognise land tenure security of indigenous people in meaningful ways.
Thanks to Dala’s own Prof Ahmad Maryudi(a leading timber legality researcher) for helping out with this post.