OECD: timber certification sets bad example for biofuels. FSC also under attack from Australia, Finland, Canada, US?

A new report for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has cast serious doubts about the prospects for certification of biofuels, pointing to the failures of timber certification. The report, entitled ‘Biofuels: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease’ (available for download below), was presented to the OECD’s Round Table on Sustainable Development in Paris in September. It warns that timber certification has failed after many years to come up with credible Chain of Custody systems. The report also point out that certification doesn’t necessarily help to address the underlying problems of either non-sustainable timber or biofuel production because the problem simply gets displaced elsewhere.

Although the OECD report does not specifically name the FSC, it is clear that its conclusions apply to the FSC as much as any other timber certification scheme. The chain of custody problem is one which FSC-Watch has raised before, and which FSC has yet to provide any convincing answers to.

The relevant parts of the report are as follows:

7.2 Lessons learned from certification schemes for forest products

  1. Since the early 1990s, the international community has worked hard to establish certification as a tool to guarantee that wood products are resourced in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way. Forest products certification is a procedure by which an independent third party inspects and provides written assurance that a product originates in a forest that complies with pre-defined social and environmental standards. The objective is to limit the market for products that are not produced sustainably.
  2. Although the market is still under development, certain key lessons should be taken into account when considering certification as a tool in the biofuels market. First of all, it has proven to be extremely difficult to develop an effective chain-of-custody control that tracks wood products from the forest through to finished products. Wood is processed into many different products and sourced from many different wood species, origins and owners. Shipping documents are easy to falsify and the laundering of illegal products through trade between countries is also relatively easy without strong cooperation and communication between custom offices.
  3. Second, the effectiveness of certification has been undermined by displacement of wood products. As certification is not a multilateral requirement but conducted on a voluntary basis, it has merely led to a segmentation of the market, not to a reduction of the problem. Wood products from sustainable sources are supplying the small higher priced market segment that demands certified products, whereas non-sustainably produced resources are serving the rest of the market. Certified and non-certified products lay next to each other in factories and trading companies. The result is that more than 90% of the certified products are coming from OECD countries, where it is easier to identify sustainably managed forest practices in the first place. Tropical regions supply the greater part of the market but less than 5% of the market for certified wood.
  4. Third, the many different certification schemes have undermined the potential for increased transparency in the market and the costs facing sustainable producers. The result has been an increase in the negative cost differential between certified and non certified products.
  5. Certification of biofuels could well suffer from similar problems if not properly planned. The numerous production technologies, feedstock and differing local circumstances will make establishing and agreeing on shared criteria for sustainable production challenging. Voluntary and unilateral initiatives and policies for using certification schemes will run the same risks of displacement as in the market for forest products. Strong financial incentives and targets for biofuel production without adequate supply from sustainable sources will put enormous pressure on vulnerable land and forested areas. Certification as a tool to stop illegal and unsustainably managed bio-crop plantations will become less likely when the premium to cheat on the criteria is very high.

Meanwhile, the ‘Sustainable Forestry e-Newsletter’ has reported from a ‘high-level meeting on forests and climate change’ that took place in Australia earlier this year that the World Bank has acknowledged it has received criticism from the Governments of Australia, the US, Canada and Finland about the Bank’s plans to link its so-called ‘Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’ with FSC certification. Discerning readers will know that the reports of this particular source of information, which is actually a public relations front for the PNG logging industry, generally have to be treated with extreme caution. But on this one occasion they are plausible, and provide further evidence that Heiko Liedeker is increasingly losing the battle to convince the international community of FSC’s credibility.

The OECD’s report is available for download here: www.oecd.org

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