Global Witness today publishes the print version of the second phase of its unique comparative study of transparency in the forest sectors of five developing countries, the Making the Forest Sector Transparent Annual Transparency Report 2010. 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 for local communities about forest management issues remains a big challenge.
Partnering with campaign groups in Cameroon, Ecuador, 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 since June 2011, uses a red-amber-green traffic light system to indicate which forest sector documents are in the public domain.
The report highlights that 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.
Since the 2010 data collection period, all five countries have recently taken steps to improve the governance and transparency of their forest sector. Cameroon's Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union entered into force in August, marking the beginning of a new era for forest transparency in the country, and following up on the signing of Liberia VPA earlier in May. Also in Liberia, communities of Rivercess County became the first in the history of logging in the country to receive a share of timber revenue directly from a logging company. In Ghana, the Forestry Commission finally published data on the 2010 disbursements of royalties from timber resources. Ecuador also saw increased transparency regarding its plans for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). Last but not least, the Peru Congress approved two key texts, the forest and wildlife law and the law on the right to prior consultation with indigenous people, which significantly strengthen transparency, accountability, and recognition of Indigenous People in its legal framework.
These are promising steps and the forest authorities of the five countries need to keep up their efforts in this direction. Indeed, there remains a long way to go before forest sector transparency leads to genuinely sustainable and accountable forest management, to the benefit of local populations.
To ensure that forest governance remains considered at the highest level of discussion, Global Witness and its partners are preparing the next Annual Transparency Report in time for the UNFCCC COP 17 meeting in Durban in December. It will document changes in 2011 in the first five countries, and include Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time.
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