Davids and Goliaths

The UK Guardian newspaper reports today that the World Bank’s own internal investigation has shown serious shortcomings in its forest policy advice and lending in the Congo, which has endangered the lives of Pygmy forest communities. The bank apparently overestimated the value of timber export revenues, and pushed commercial logging at the expense of paying sufficient to alternative forest use strategies when introducing forest policy reforms.

First, I should say that I have been working as a consultant for the World Bank in Liberia since 2005, and initially my task was to help redesign the forest taxation system. So I know how difficult it can be ‘getting the numbers right’. Also, both the Congo (better known to some of us as Zaire) and Liberia are barely recovering from simply horrifying civil wars, so even basic institutions (in both senses of the word) are at best weak. Second, the good news is that the bank responded to NGOs’ concerns and the bank’s own watchdogs have admitted that there are shortcomings, which can now presumably be corrected.

In Liberia the bank is working within a coalition known as the Liberia Forest Initiative. The overall forest strategy and reform programme is continually discussed within the LFI. During 2005 I worked on forest taxation proposals. Under the Taylor regime revenues from logging were diverted to funding arms which fuelled both regional wars and the civil war, and prompted a UN log export ban. In 2006 the new government established a Forest Reform Monitoring Committee (I represented the bank) to assess all the proposed reforms for commercial, community and conservation forestry (the so-called 3Cs), and to get a new national forest reform law passed. This was completed in that year, and the accompanying regulations have been through a period of public consultation in early 2007. Continue reading “Davids and Goliaths”


Ghana timber deal with EU

Ghana is getting closer to finalising a deal to export timber to the EU market reports the BBC. I worked with Chris Beeko in the Forestry Commission on the original voluntary partnership proposal in 2003-04, so its great to see that coming to fruition. But the main damage to Ghana’s forest reserves has been caused by logging companies not chainsaw operators, That’s not to deny that they are not a problem, but it has been the concession holders who have blithely disregarded the forest law and regulations and run roughshod over forest communities.

Is Bush right in spite of himself?

The political ‘debate’ over climate change can be tiresome, Kyoto or not-Kyoto. But perhaps Bush is at least honest: many people and certainly most politicians are environmental hypocrites, begrudgingly accepting in principle the need for action but still resisting eco-chastity for themselves. The UN and EU give plenty of cover for government inaction. The main movers are likely to be self-interested big business. Which is all the more reason to work on rights and livelihood issues with forest communities, and help developing countries work out and negotiate their own programmes for forestry carbon credits.

  1. The Stern report called for the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations at a level of between 450 and 550 parts per million by 2050 – implying that global emissions would have to be at least 25 per cent below current levels. The political challenge is how to reduce emissions to such an extent, not least as world economic growth is needed to tackle poverty. The economic challenge is to correct a market failure by creating and managing emissions markets, i.e. by pricing carbon and other greenhouse gases.
  2. Politically the present US-government stance – a preference for a loose global agreement within which countries set their own non-binding emissions targets (“pledge and review”), contrasts with the UN and EU stance which supports support mandatory reduction commitments on carbon emissions (“cap and trade”). The former voluntary approach would seem to favour newly industrialising countries, the latter richer industrialised countries. The apparent enthusiasm for multilateral solutions probably masks the reluctance of individual countries to risk short-term economic competitiveness by going it alone.
  3. What is needed in practice is an agreement between those countries responsible for 90% of global emissions (Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US), plus the involvement of the major transnational energy and manufacturing companies that actually produce the much of the emissions. The communications revolution and deepening globalisation are pushing business into ethical markets and products. Many businesses see that their own longer-term self-interest lies in the regulation of emissions and have become both leading advocates for government action on climate change and principle investors in new technologies and environmental markets. Businesses are in seeking greater standardisation in emissions markets and regulations. Continue reading “Is Bush right in spite of himself?”