Last week, I attended my first Forest Stewardship Council General Assembly. Its an assembly of the companies, environmental organisations, civil society groups, and individuals that make up the membership of FSC, and as such share the responsibility of setting the direction for FSC. We tackled issues critical to supporting people, nature, and business, as the world’s forests are managed for production from the smallest to the largest scales, and the smallest to the largest impacts and risks.
Happening once every three years, this is an important time for the “chambers” – economic, social and environmental, to voice their views on forests, agree and disagree, influence, merge, and amend, and then vote on proposals for change.
FSC celebrates 20 years this year working to promote sustainable forest management, in an inclusive, just, credible and transparent way. It’s balanced chambers system for driving FSC as a credible forest certification scheme is widely held as best practice stakeholder engagement, so did what actually happened confirm this?
I was phenomenally impressed with the willingness of attendees to collaborate and acknowledge the validity of each other’s views. Each chamber prioritized the proposals they wanted to see make the voting floor. Four motions from the assembly demonstrated for me that FSC remains credible, relevant and progressive to the future of forests for all.
- The overwhelming agreement on development of a new FSC global strategy
- New approaches to certification for smallholders, communities, and indigenous peoples
- Development of the FSC approach to certification in Intact Forest Landscapes
- Opening the way to find a solution for better social and environmental performance on the ground in plantations, and restoration on land cleared after 1994, linked to willingness of the land manager to compensate for past forest loss.
The General Assembly was intense. When motion 65 on Intact Forest Landscapes passed, I felt incredibly emotional that this vital decision to find a workable solution among all actors for promoting credible certification in these landscapes had succeeded, giving us greater chance to avoid them being converted to other land uses or becoming the playground of forest companies unconstrained by pressure to secure forests for the future from the customers.
In the break right after this, Rod Taylor, Director of our International Forest Programme, told me it felt like an amazing compromise had been achieved with the amendment of the Greenpeace proposal to gain more economic support, but he was not being naïve about the challenge it presents to us and others to deliver the solutions in the countries where intact forest landscape maintenance matters most, like the Congo Basin, Russia, Brazil.
We had a great team at the Assembly – some like me attending for the first time, right the way through to Maggis Renstrom, who has been on the FSC International Board representing the environmental north chamber, and coming to the end of her board participation. I took down some thoughts from them less than an hour after the assembly had closed, to capture both the mood, and some important take homes
Daniel Tiveau, Regional Coordinator for the Congo Basin, told me “I’ve realised how little I really knew about FSC before; African participation needs to be increased, and we need to get moving with national standards working groups to enable critical discussions on intact forest landscapes and national interpretations” and Sundari Ramakrishna, Conservation Director of WWF Malaysia, shared with me that she felt the assembly and experience was “incredibly complex, but wonderfully passionate people made it work – it was an interesting learning experience – now I know what democracy is all about”. Not that we don’t work on these issues all the time – but in action, the vision for a better future for forests and what needs to happen for it to be achieved comes into clearer focus.
Social and environmental voices need help to come to the FSC mechanism to keep it strong. And achieving this forest management has to be accessible and achievable and beneficial for all types of stakeholders. I’ve come away with a real injection of the specialness of FSC and the importance of balanced stakeholder participation, and it is definitely an experience I will never forget.