Commitments to improve public access to information over how forests are managed in developing countries are not being met, said Global Witness on the publication of its fourth Annual Transparency Report for the forest sector. The study analysed progress across seven African and Latin American countries and found that in each case, governments continue to sign away forests whilst failing to make their forest sector more open.
David Young, Campaigner at Global Witness, said of the report "People will never be able to decide what should happen to their forests, or hold their governments to account, unless they are consulted about proposed deals before they are signed. This analysis shows that governments have made lots of the right noises, but too little is changing in practice. Greater investment is urgently needed to make sure the promised information reaches the right people in the right way at the right time."
Since 2009, Global Witness and local environmental watchdog organisations in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Liberia and Peru have documented how well governments have met their commitments to improve forest sector transparency. The results of four annual assessments show that:
Unless international efforts to stamp out illegal timber focus on transparency in producer countries, as well as entry controls in importing countries to determine where timber comes from, they risk rubber-stamping a corrupt status quo.
Forest authorities often fail to comply with their duty to publish key documents and data as required by freedom of information laws and forest sector-specific obligations.
The rights of indigenous forest peoples and forms of community forest management have received little attention from governments compared to commercial forest resource exploitation. They need to be prioritised.
New regulations and laws are liable to be undermined from one side by popular resistance and the other by corruption unless developed through an explicitly open and consultative process. Efforts to include all stakeholders in decisions must be improved.
The timber industry avoids and delays paying its dues and funds are not reaching local forest communities. Governments, industry and civil society need to become more transparent in distribution and investment of forestry royalties and incentives.
Too little consideration is given to what the best use of the forest is, particularly in an era of climate change. Mining, oil, agro-industry and other projects on forest lands are frequently agreed behind closed doors with little consideration of environmental impacts.
Jonathan Yiah, Coordinator at the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia, summed up how a lack of transparency affects forests, and people who depend on them, in his country: "Forests are crucial to the planet and the people that live in them, yet they are under severe threat from logging, mining and land grabs. Poor management and corruption too often facilitates forest destruction and means the rights of those who live in them are often ignored."