Greenpeace loses the plot: Motion 65 shambles, and an ugly failure to protect ‘intact forests’

Motion 65 to the FSC’s General Assembly, its highest decision-making authority, was tabled by Judy Rodrigues of Greenpeace International. The motion was intended to set out new requirements for the FSC when certifying logging companies in what Greenpeace describes as ‘intact forest landscapes’ (or IFLs). These are important large areas of forest which remain undamaged, and are rapidly declining and being fragmented – often by commercial logging – the world over. Greenpeace rightly wishes to see these forests better protected – but has failed to prevent the FSC from legitimising their destruction.

Under the original Motion 65 as tabled by Greenpeace (see below), FSC’s certifiers would only be able to certify companies operating in such areas if “a comprehensive and representative protected area network has been established”, if “priority has been given to small-scale and low-impact community forest use wherever appropriate” and if “the buffer around the core road-building and other fragmentation impacts are avoided or minimized”.

Motion 65 as originally proposed

This proposal was clearly not well received by some of the FSC’s members at the General Assembly. According to a blog written by Greenpeace’s Rodrigues, “we spent days drafting language in a way that was workable for representatives from social groups and industry”.  A new version of Motion 65 was produced, and duly voted through by a strong majority (though still more than a quarter of the FSC’s business members voted against the proposal). Rodrigues posted in a blog that “We are thrilled to see FSC take this important step in forest conservation and the development of alternative models for forest management”. Greenpeace spokesperson Daniel Brindis tweeted breathlessly:

brindis1

Brindis3

No-one seems to have told Brindis that not only was the FSC not ‘strong’ to start with, but that with the passage of this new motion, both its and Greenpeace’s credibility would be further diminished. The new, amended version which was passed gutted much of the original motion’s intent. In its heavily amended form it leaves the doors open to largely ‘business as usual’ certification of logging companies operating in some of the world’s most important forests.

Motion 65 as amended and approved by the FSC General Assembly

There are a few very marginal extra requirements, but plenty of loopholes that will soon be exploited. Far from setting out any form of prohibition of logging in intact forests, Motion 65 only requires the FSC will “direct” the  accredited certification companies to include “indicators” for protecting IFLs in their checklists when auditing loggers. Greenpeace seems comfortable to ignore the fact that the FSC Secretariat has been disregarding such General Assembly decisions since its inception, that it has consistently proven utterly powerless to ‘direct’ the certification companies to do anything whatsoever, and that all of FSC’s biggest certification companies have an uninterrupted track record of circumventing FSC’s rules extending back fully two decades.

The full extent of Greenpeace’s dismal capitulation can be seen by comparing the text of the approved Motion 65 with the wording of the organisation’s demands on protecting intact forests from just a few years ago. In a 2011 briefing (opens pdf. 1.8Mb) entitled ‘Intact forest landscapes; Why it is crucial to protect them from industrial exploitation’, Greenpeace set out what they believed needs to happen to protect such forests. They describe in a section entitled ‘Land use options to protect and conserve IFLs’ how there should be “core strict protected areas that have a primary focus on maintaining biological values in the landscape” in which “the rights of indigenous peoples will be respected”.  (One of the major flaws in Motion 65 is that nowhere is the term ‘core area’ actually defined. Typically, this is the kind of issue which the FSC would ‘resolve’ by setting up a Working Group, spending several years prevaricating over until the environmental lobbyists were worn down, bored or coopted, and the economic interests got their way). No mention of industrial logging in these core areas, certified or not. Beyond this ‘core’ area, Greenpeace’s policy document states, will be “buffer zones and other categories of protected and conservation areas that have maintenance of key biological and ecological attributes as a goal including intactness” – no mention of industrial scale logging being permitted there either. Even outside these ‘core’ and ‘buffer’ zones, Greenpeace envisaged “zones for community use and management”- again, no mention of industrial logging.

In fact, even the original, stronger, Motion 65 fell a long way short of living up to these demands, by accepting that some form of logging could be carried out in all parts of IFLs under certain conditions. Motion 65 as approved, wholeheartedly endorsed by Greenpeace, does not prohibit industrial scale logging even in the ‘core’ areas. It would only require FSC’s certifiers to claim that logging companies had “sets aside” certain areas for protection and were “managing for intactness” (whatever that means). “Development” can be allowed in core areas “in limited circumstances” – indicating that Greenpeace has failed to learn from its 20 years of close involvement with the FSC that any such loophole is readily exploited by both the certification companies and their logging company clients. What starts as a “limited circumstance” quickly becomes the norm, especially if it presents any impediment to the certifiers’ profits.

Outside of the core areas, the only clauses of the Motion which seem to hold any potential for better protection are that the certifiers should be required to show that logging companies “address the need to reduce timber harvesting rates”  (emphasis added) – but even this is preceded by the weasel words “Where applicable”. The motion would also require that the logging company should “prioritize development of low-impact/small scale forest management…and provide first access to local communities” – but only  in “unallocated IFL areas”. This is a non sequitur insofar as if an area is undergoing certification then it is necessarily already ‘allocated’ in its entirety for one purpose or another, usually industrial logging.

In short, Greenpeace’s endorsement of Motion 65 means that it has driven a bulldozer and logging truck over its former demands to protect intact forests. The weaknesses in the FSC system – which Greenpeace well understands – means that even the weak clauses that exist will be easily be circumvented. The accredited certifiers have shown themselves to be highly proficient at avoiding compliance with the FSC’s very basic requirements, including with the high-level ‘Principles’ of good forest management. The FSC Secretariat has shown itself completely impotent at dealing with this kind of failure by the certifiers, even when they are persistent offenders.

Some Greenpeace campaigners no doubt fought in good faith for the intent of the original motion. But they have been sold short by their policy managers. This outcome looks to outsiders as if, rather than showing that the FSC had made “big strides”, as Rodrigues put it, it is actually a serious defeat for Greenpeace, and for the forests themselves.

Greenpeace has failed to bring about a change in the FSC that will serve meaningfully to protect intact forests. As ever, the economic interests that dominate the FSC, and pro-industry groups such as WWF, have won a resounding victory. It is time for Greenpeace to realise that the protection of intact forests that they seek will never happen through the FSC. Rather than being forced to compromise its principles to the point of destroying them, Greenpeace should leave the FSC and seek to bring about change through other mechanisms, such as governmental regulation, that actually stand a chance of succeeding.

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