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Why is Forest Sector Transparency important

The need for transparency

Solving the problem of forest-sector mismanagement is neither straightforward nor easy.

Forest sector policy processes -- dominated by a narrow group of interests -- have lacked transparency. Too often, use of public forests is undemocratically agreed behind closed doors and without the knowledge or consent of ordinary people, who find themselves effectively locked out of discussions and consultation processes. The public needs of poorer, forest-dependent communities have been neglected in favour of the private needs of elites.

It is clear, then, that a step in the right direction towards improving forest sector policy and practice is to make forest sector governance more responsive and accountable, and this means increasing transparency.

Efforts to tackle poor management and unsustainable forest to achieve an effective community-based approach to forest ownership and management require clear legal frameworks, robust mechanisms and effective leadership and action -- at both the national and international level.

Forests, climate change and transparency

One international process that should support good governance of forests is the United Nations' collaborative programme on "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation" in Developing Countries (otherwise known as UN-REDD) is aimed at "tipping the economic balance in favour of sustainable management of forests so that their formidable economic, environmental and social goods and services benefit countries, communities and forest users while also contributing to important reductions in greenhouse gas emissions" (UNDP). As concern about the impacts of climate change rapidly increases so has the consensus that the fight against climate change cannot succeed without finding a way to protect forests. This is putting added pressure on national governments and unscrupulous businesses to make the forest sector more accountable. Global Witness has published a pair of reports which press for greater independent oversight of REDD in order that it genuinely helps to solve the problem of poor forest sector governance and transparency and illegal forest activities.

The role of civil society

Effective public participation in decision-making depends on the availability and accessibility of full, accurate, reliable and up-to-date information. Civil society organisations can play a vital role in promoting and guaranteeing the access to information agenda -- by creating space for public discussion and organising civil society action on a range of access-related issues. In those countries where some form of legislation exists around access to information, the role of civil society has been crucial in pressing for the enforcement of that right. The role of civil society in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) through the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition -- of which Global Witness was a founder member -- is a good example of this; civil society groups in almost 70 countries were able to lever considerable pressure on authorities to conform to their government's commitment to EITI and call for the disclosure of licensing arrangements and extractive industry contracts. In this case, the involvement of civil society was effective not just in raising transparency levels but also in promoting discussion of data disclosure and building trust between stakeholders in a sector where, not unlike the forest sector, relationships have historically been adversarial.

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