FSC responds to departure of FERN; Secretariat still in self-denial

The FSC Secretariat has issued a response to the resignation of important NGO member, FERN, which FSC-Watch reported recently. Whilst the statement naturally tries to play down the significance of FERN’s departure (and pretends that FERN had no concerns about the organisation other than on carbon certification, which it knows to be untrue), it reveals just how firmly in self-denial the FSC remains.

FSC’s statement justifies its drift towards involvement in forest carbon certification by saying that “FSC’s principal role in climate mitigation frameworks would be to ensure that the management, monitoring and monetization of forest carbon resources do not come at the expense of people’s rights or the environment”. This might be a vaguely plasuible argument, were it not for the fact that FSC has signally failed to protect the rights of indigenous people or the environment through its core activity of certifying wood and non-wood products. Given the glaringly obvious and major systemic failures in both the certification bodies’ audit procedures, as well as the way ASI deals with these, the thought of FSC engaging in the much more complex, technically challenging, and even more fraud-prone area of carbon certification, is enough to fill even keen FSC supporters with serious doubts.

Perhaps the departure of FERN has finally taught the FSC to start thinking seriously about its future. The response does at least refer to FSC’s Forest Carbon Working Group’ appreciation that there are “reputational risks” of becoming too involved in forest carbon markets. Again, however, FSC’s history undermines the credibility of this response: the reputational risks of many proposed new policies have been recognised long before they were adopted, but the logic of supporting the economic interests of the certifiers and the economic chamber, and the strategy of pursuing unconstrained growth of the total certified area, was inexorably followed anyway – resulting in yet further reputational damage to the FSC system. Any organisation that could adopt the Controlled Wood Policy clearly has no real sense of reputational risk, likewise with the policy of allowing certifiers to continue using their own ‘generic’ certification standards instead of only being allowed to use proper national FSC standards. Neither FERN nor any other organisation has any reason to believe that the ultimate approach to forest carbon certifying would be any different.

RE: FERN withdrawal from FSC membership

Dear stakeholder,

This update is intended to provide you with an overview on FSC’s engagement with FERN, the Brussels and UK based organization.

FERN has been a long-standing FSC Member and has helped inform many important discussions within FSC and the wider forest issues community. In a statement released on 8 June 2011, FERN announced their withdrawal from FSC membership based on the conclusion that FSC “will become actively involved in the certification of carbon forestry practices.”

FERN’s decision to disengage from the FSC Membership forum is not a result of any change in FSC Policy and FSC is not actively involved in certification of carbon forestry practices. FERN’s withdrawal from FSC Membership is based on expectation that FSC’s potential engagement in forest-based carbon programs would be incompatible with FERN’s position on carbon offset programs.

FSC’s role in frameworks to mitigate climate change by maintaining and/or increasing carbon stocks has been researched by a 12 member, sub-chamber balanced Forest Carbon Working Group (FCWG) since 2009, under directive of the FSC Membership. Established to advise the FSC Board of Directors and FSC membership with respect to all matters related to the formal engagement of FSC in climate change, greenhouse gas accounting, and forest-based carbon programs, projects and standards, the FCWG has submitted their final report to the FSC Board of Directors for review.

The FCWG has recommended that FSC’s principal role in climate mitigation frameworks would be to ensure that the management, monitoring and monetization of forest carbon resources do not come at the expense of people’s rights or the environment. Additionally, FSC can provide leadership in the debate on responsible forest management with re-spect to “carbon stewardship”.

As with any single forest use, carbon management cannot be separated from the many ecosystem services that well managed forests provide. FSC is considered by the FCWG to have the best prerequisites to ensure that the full range of social and economic bene-fits and environmental services from forests are realized and that forest carbon steward-ship is well-balanced within this range.

The FCWG has clearly recognized concerns about the functioning of carbon markets and the reliability of offset-related claims and flagged to the FSC membership in an ‘ssue Paper’ circulated in December 2010. The FCWG identified “a reputational risk in FSC being associated with voluntary carbon standards and their methodologies, where inaccurate or inappropriate claims are made by FSC certified operations.” And further that “FSC should not be directly involved in carbon offset quantification and verification.”


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