Deforestation-Free Label requires Clarity on Forest Terminology

Deforestation-Free Label requires Clarity on Forest Terminology

Palmoilmagazine, Edi Suhardi, Sustainable Palm Oil Analysts.

Palmoilmagazine, Jakarta - European Union environment ministers reached an agreement on a general approach to new rules addressing global deforestation during a meeting of the Environment Council in Luxembourg on June 28.

The proposal, which was initially presented by the European Commission in November 2021, aims to ensure that products and commodities imported into the EU are ‘deforestation-free’ which is termed as ‘not having caused deforestation or forest degradation during their production’.

The Council agreed to set mandatory due diligence rules for all operators and traders who place, make available or export products of six commodities such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil, soya, beef and wood, as well as a number of their derivative products. The regulation no no longer singles out palm oil as the main villain in deforestation.

The Council defined ‘deforestation’ as the conversion of forest to agricultural use, whether human-induced or not. While ‘forest degradation’ means as “structural changes to forest cover, that translate into the conversion of primary forests into plantation forests or into other wooded land.” In the document, ‘forest’ means land spanning more than 0,5 hectares with trees higher than five meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent.

This commitment imposes a double-edged sword impact on developing countries with highly forested landscape such as Indonesia.

It is a general, more pragmatic approach in addressing deforestation in the supply chain of any commodities, including cocoa, soy, beef, palm oil, coffee that are allegedly contributed to or linked with forest degradation.

It should be noted, however, that the document is missing the reality when we realize that deforestation can be labelled to any product that allegedly converts the 0.5 ha of land. Such terms are too simplistic and only applicable in certain regions, such as temperate Europe. While, in tropical countries like Indonesia, the area can be considered forest if it is larger and more complex ecologically.

Therefore, there are critical gaps on the definition of forest and deforestation between EU and Indonesia which need to be reconciled.

Despite its noble purpose and goals, the commitment fails to recognize the highly forested landscape, like Papua and the opportunity for indigenous Papuans to economically develop and thrive. Further, the EU commitment also disregards in its forest definition and governance the nature of biophysical forests in other regions, such as tropical forests, and the producing country’s sovereignty.

It is unfortunate that such an important document was not supported with a more comprehensive scientific basis as shown in its failure to clarify the terms of forest and deforestation which needs to take the local context of the producing countries.

Therefore, the definition of “deforestation-free” should be sufficiently broad to cover both deforestation and forest degradation applicable in producing countries not entirely based on the understanding of policy makers in EU. Also, it should provide legal clarity, and should be measurable based on quantitative, objective and internationally recognized data.

Deforestation-free commitment has become an overarching restriction for new development on commodities, including palm oil in high forested landscape, such as Papua. Such strict prerequisite has downplayed the importance of development need for indigenous Papuan to thrive economically. This situation needs to be addressed.

Indonesia should use the ongoing due diligence in the EU as an opportunity and impetus to devise more careful and detailed definitions of criteria for sustainable palm oil, covering all relevant environmental, social, labor and human rights issues.

The government should conduct a review of the criteria through a multistakeholder process, including representatives of oil palm farmers, Indigenous peoples, local communities, and civil society organizations, alongside government and industry.

In response to the EU deforestation-free commitment, the government need to take robust action to introduce new forest and deforestation policies. There are three policy and program priorities need to be undertaken.

First, the government needs to define the fixed, widely-accepted definition of forest and deforestation based on scientific considerations, particularly on ecological functions and environmental services. All High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) areas in a landscape must be categorized as forest areas.

Deforestation should be termed as any change or conversion of the designated forest area into other purposes. Consequently, the government should counter that any development in areas designated as non-forest is not considered deforestation.

Second, forest land use must be redesignated into protection, conservation and production forest. The protected and conservation forest will include primary forests which must be kept intact from any development. Tree plantations can only be developed in production forests. Deforestation and forest degradation labels will be imposed for breaching the commitment to preserve the areas gazetted as protected and conservation forest.

Third, for highly forested landscapes such as Papua, forest land use should reconcile and integrate environmental and socio-economic considerations, which would allow some of the high cover to be converted and develop certain commodities at a limited scale. The spatial land-use mapping for this particular region needs a more thorough and intensive multi-stakeholder process to account for customary rights, sustainable development opportunity and climate change.

The fourth and most urgent task is that the government needs to conduct extensive and detailed forest mapping throughout the country, especially in the forested areas such as Papua, Kalimantan and Sumatra. The forest map must be agreed upon by all government agencies and stakeholders as the base map and blueprint for sustainable regional development from the provincial down to the village level.

When we have clarity on the understanding of forests and deforestation, have developed fixed national forest land use, have a strategy on sustainable development in highly forested landscapes and have a completed and detailed national forest map, then we will be in the position to counter and provide an alternate version of our own deforestation-free commitment.

Forest mapping and governance are not only important for forest management but also provide clarity on how the country is going to manage its endowment of natural resources.


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