Global Witness today publishes the second phase of its unique comparative study of transparency in the forest sectors of four developing countries. The report shows improvements in governments' willingness to engage with civil society in each country, but sounds an overall warning to the international community that access to information on forest management remains hugely insufficient.
"Over a billion people live in the world's forests - they need a say in how their land is used," said Global Witness Forest Campaigner David Young. "This report shows some improvements in each country from 2009 to 2010, but overall underlines the urgent need for more transparent information and more meaningful consultation with civil society in forested countries. Policy makers negotiating how to finance forest carbon schemes in Bonn this week and Durban in December must take note."
Partnering with campaign groups in Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and Peru, the project measures access to information against a comprehensive set of indicators, and draws lessons for improvements on a national level. This represents the first time that grassroots data on community involvement in forest policy has been compared and contrasted across several countries. The assessment, available online at www.foresttransparency.info, uses a red-amber-green traffic light system to indicate which forest sector documents are in the public domain.
Whilst consultation processes may have shown some improvement, access to information in the sector remains generally poor. Lack of basic disclosure persists in key areas such as concession contracts, forest management plans, and what proportion of revenues communities receive from timber felling.
In the report Samuel Nguiffo, director of the Centre for Environment and Development in Cameroon, and local project coordinator there, sums up the importance of transparency: "In order for the rights of forest communities to be recognised and protected, communities need to be able to know, for each activity taking place in their areas, who is involved, what is the extent of their rights, what are his obligations towards the communities".
In the assessment Global Witness gives a clear warning to the negotiators working on a forests and climate deal in Bonn this week. Whilst forest sector transparency is increasingly recognised and discussed as an issue, regulatory frameworks for 'carbon concessions' or land deals remain almost non-existent. There is a real risk that this policy vacuum will leave governments and their people vulnerable to predatory commercial interests and locked in to unfavourable contracts.