MEPs on Thursday backed a deal that will help combat deforestation in Indonesia, which has the world’s third-largest area of rainforest but it also its third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The deal will oblige Indonesia to prove that all the timber it exports to the EU has been produced, harvested and shipped legally. Around10 % of Indonesian timber and timber product exports are currently destined for the EU.

"We met with the broadest possible range of Indonesian and European authorities and stakeholders to produce the best possible recommendation, so that this deal guarantees that the timber we import into the EU meets the criteria of sustainability. Indonesia is particularly important, as Indonesian forests are immense and essential for climate, biodiversity and local people who either live in the forests or live from the forests", said EP's rapporteur Yannick Jadot (Greens, FR) ahead of the vote.

How will this work?

According to the deal (voluntarily partnership agreement), the existing Indonesian Timber Legality Assurance System (SVLK), after a revision aimed to adjust it to the EU sustainability demands, will be cleared to receive the "FLEGT" license which is automatically considered to guarantee legality under the EU Timber Regulation. Indonesian timber without the "FLEGT" licence won't be permitted to enter the EU market.

Shortcomings: indigenous peoples' rights, conversion of natural forests

Even though MEPs support the conclusion of deal with Indonesia, in a non-binding resolution also adopted on Thursday they call on Commission to work together with Indonesia to address the current shortcomings of Indonesian local SVLK certification system, soon to be acknowledged by the EU.

Firstly, they ask to ensure differentiation among verified and unverified timber and that those are kept separately, which was currently not the case and entry of illegal timber into the certified value chain is still highly probable.

They also ask to ensure that the conversion of natural forests is kept to a minimum. Currently timber coming from forest conversion into agricultural land or palm-oil plantations is not disadvantaged by the local certification system which currently also does not audit, whether undertakings responsible for forest conversion have obtained permits to do so.

The Indonesian system currently does not take into account indigenous peoples complaints on logging or land grabbing and certifies even timber from sources challenged by local communities. MEPs ask the Commission to ensure the "free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities" in all cases, and fair compensation is paid, where appropriate, for loss of access to forest lands critical to their livelihoods.

Indonesian rainforests: a worrying trend

Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest area (after the Amazon and the Congo Basin), but is also a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly as a result of the large-scale conversion of its rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands to other land uses such as the production of palm oil and paper. Indonesia lost at least 1 240 000 hectares of forest between 2009 and 2011.

Reports by Human Rights Watch, Interpol and a World Bank indicate that the forestry sector in Indonesia is a source of massive corruption, tax evasion and money laundering.

A 2007 United Nations Environment Programme report estimated that 73-88% of timber logged in Indonesia is illegally sourced.

What next

The Voluntary Partnership Agreement between Indonesia and the EU was concluded on 30 September 2013, as part of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan, intended to eradicate illegal logging and improve forest governance globally. To take legal effect, it needed the European Parliament’s consent which now has to be formally approved also by the Council.

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