Why Should Deforestation Be Legal

Why Should Deforestation Be Legal

The absence of viable state authority – and the absence of other legal means of survival – has made deforestation and illegal timber trade a staple food in the Congolese economy. And it directly supports the operations of several armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. For example, for decades, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have used North Kivu`s illegal timber trade to support their activities and use their transnational connections to transport timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many other armed groups also profit from the illegal timber trade, in addition to the more well-known mineral trade. Curious about this web of laws and policies – trying to untangle threads and knots to understand how they are connected – provides remarkable insights into the legal forces that support or hinder low-carbon development efforts. Although deforestation in Brazil has declined over the past decade, the Brazilian government has recently relaxed deforestation rules and limited the ability of federal environmental agencies to enforce these rules. Predictably, bad things followed. Between August 2012 and July 2013, deforestation increased by 28% compared to the previous year. Conflict has been a dominant feature of the Congo Basin since the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1960. Due to recurrent cycles of conflict, many communities have increasingly moved to forest areas, resulting in significant new areas of deforestation. In fact, after the end of the civil war, many returnees also participated in deforestation and cleared land for new agricultural enterprises. Other factors also play an important role in promoting illegal deforestation.

Rapid population growth, urbanization, changing agricultural practices and the gradual expansion of roads in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have increased pressure on Congo`s forests. Indeed, the DRC`s economic growth and development opportunities for its citizens are directly linked to the country`s vast forests (an unsustainable activity in itself). This means that actors who are able to control resources – including in many areas of the timber trade – are seen as key actors in governance. In areas where armed groups control timber, charcoal and other natural resources, they gain legitimacy, often at the expense of the central state. The feasibility study suggests that new legal instruments such as a due diligence regime for forest-risk commodities would have the greatest impact. In the coming weeks, you can expect a lot from us on deforestation and conflict in the Brazilian Amazon. You`ll also hear a lot about how you can help combat deforestation. The EU has already demonstrated its leadership in the adoption of the EU Timber Regulation. The law, which came into force five years ago, obliges EU companies to assess the risk of illegal harvesting of timber placed on the EU market. Deforestation and the involvement of armed groups have become more frequent over the past two years due to various factors. First, the government of Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged the dismantling of federal institutions (including IBAMA) responsible for monitoring and protecting forests.

Second, he also relaxed gun ownership laws and actively promoted a gun culture. And third, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the Amazon, weakened social services and made local populations such as indigenous communities and groups of African descent, the Quilombolas, more vulnerable to land invasions by illegal miners (garimpeiros), illegal loggers and allied armed groups. At the same time, commodity prices, including beef and soybeans, have risen, leading to an accelerating pace of illegal land invasions and deforestation. As a result, rural violence in the region has exploded. In March 2021, for example, illegal gold miners used automatic weapons to shoot Yanomani indigenous people defending their land near the Brazil-Venezuela border. There is also growing evidence of links between environmental crimes, such as illegal logging, and drug trafficking groups based in the prison systems of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as their allied groups in the north of the country. As the links between environment and security become increasingly clear, our collective and national policy responses must keep pace. The link between deforestation and violent conflict should be one of the most important and urgent aspects of any prevention effort.

These «zero deforestation commitments» are a step in the right direction, but they are only voluntary and cover only a small part of all forest raw material supply chains. There is also a real lack of transparency and control regarding these commitments, which means that companies are not kept their word. Illegal logging and deforestation threaten the future of the Peruvian Amazon, which accounts for more than 60% of Peruvian land. Through the activities of Peru Bosque and Pro-Bosque, USAID helped the Peruvian government strengthen forest sector monitoring and enforcement and increase the legal share of timber for international and domestic use. USAID supported the creation of Peru`s National Forest and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for forest and wildlife issues, and the National Forest and Wildlife Policy, a long-term plan for forestry. As a result of extensive activities, 2,623,322 hectares are farmed in biologically important areas with better management. At the same time, actors must ensure that understanding the security of illegal deforestation is reconciled with the development and human rights needs of the local population.