A new international policy regime for sustainable forest management may complicate matters rather than provide solutions, according to a new report. It suggests there should be better co-ordination of existing hard and soft policy options and between the numerous organisations involved in forest management.
There have been a growing number of treaties and organisations involved in forest management and every year, the international community spends billions of dollars on programmes for sustainable forest management. However, an estimated 13 million hectares of forest is still lost every year globally. Although the many initiatives, from local to international, reflect growing concerns about the world's forests, they also contribute to a complex policy landscape.
The report sets out a comprehensive overview of the current policy framework with respect to forests and defines the current state of forest policy as a 'regime complex'. A regime complex consists of a range of policies, which include 'hard' international legal instruments with a forest-related mandate, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and a growing body of soft laws, such as guidelines and resolutions, as well voluntary private sector and NGO standards and practices, such as those of the Forest Stewardship Council. The panel responsible for the report does not propose that this international policy regime is replaced, but suggest that its complexity should be embraced and provide recommendations for co-ordination in order to reduce ambiguity, overlap and inefficiency.
The report calls this co-ordinated approach 'Forests+' and suggests that it must consist of five building blocks. Firstly, it should ensure that dialogue occurs at the appropriate level, whether it is international or local, or a level between the two. Secondly, there should be co-ordination between organisations and policy instruments, based on information sharing. Thirdly, the approach should not negotiate a new super-instrument for forests, but co-ordinate existing and future initiatives into a portfolio that combines both soft and hard instruments.
Fourthly, there should be intelligent stakeholder participation that is based on relevance to the issue, rather than always involving all stakeholders in all policy decisions. Lastly, policy entrepreneurs that work outside the governmental system, such as academics or think tanks, should be given more opportunity to introduce and implement innovative ideas in formal processes.
The report also suggests that more emphasis should be placed on information-based policy instruments, as opposed to regulatory and incentive instruments. It has several recommendations on how this could be done. It proposes the creation of a comprehensive clearing house for forest-focused and forest-related research. The clearing house should be accompanied by a learning platform, which is an integrated set of services that provide information, tools and resources to support policy learning. There would also need to be an improvement in network management in order to allow knowledge sharing. Currently there is an element of distrust, particularly between NGO and state-led forest networks, but this could be improved through a lead organisation or a policy entrepreneur. Knowledge-based policy could profit from progress in networked technologies. Web-presence is important for credibility and effectiveness as well as sharing information through linked content.