The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Saskia Ozinga.

For many living in the UK but feeling European, the UK’s referendum verdict was a great shock.

The vote split across political parties and the traditional left and right allegiances. Those who believe that their lives are hampered by ‘foreign influences’ were united against the EU as a common enemy. Brexit can be seen as a vote against globalisation and the neo-liberal economic model, as well as a vote against sharing our wealth [MO1] with immigrants and refugees. The decision risks inflaming nationalist sentiments and may trigger the break-up of the UK and the EU.

More immediately, there is no doubt that that it jeopardises the development and implementation of environmental policies when the threat of climate change is more pressing than ever.

For more than twenty years, Fern has campaigned for an EU that protects rather than destroys forests, and respects rather than ignores the rights of those who depend on them, and while the full ramifications of last week’s decision will only be clear over time, as far as forests and forest peoples are concerned, some of the challenges ahead are already apparent.

The UK’s impact on forests outside of the EU has been bigger than that of most Member States. It was one of the driving forces behind FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade), the EU’s flagship programme to address illegal logging, which includes the Voluntary Partnership Agreement trade deals with timber producing countries, and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) to control illegal timber coming into EU market. This is the EU’s most innovative policy on tropical forests ever. Yet to achieve its goals it still needs strong support, and it would be disastrous if the UK decided to end its backing and also stopped implementing the EUTR.

The UK was also a strong ally in international negotiations about forest governance and wider intergovernmental policies that impact on forests, such as the present push for an EU Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation. We can only hope they continue to work with NGO coalitions to achieve this. Without the UK, the EU will certainly lose impact in international negotiations on forest governance.

The UK has also been a large donor of development aid for forests, even though Germany and the Netherlands have been bigger contributors over the last decade. Political change in the UK may mean a drastic lowering of the UK aid budget in general and to forests specifically.

The biggest threat to forests both in and outside of the EU is climate change. The UK was a staunch supporter of a high climate target for 2030 and was one of the Member States actively working to ensure accounting for forest carbon remains separate from fossil fuel carbon (for more information see Fern’s new film Introducing LULUCF). It was the only country calling for an increase in the EU’s climate target if LULUCF were to be accounted for in the Effort Sharing Decision. It will now be up to progressive countries such as France and Germany to lead the way.

In terms of European forests, the impact will be more limited as decisions concerning forest management have always remained with Member States and the forest policy debate is dominated by forest rich countries.

In general, the uncertainty and the time spent disentangling the UK from the EU will lead to many decisions being delayed. That is a negative impact we see already, which will specifically be felt in the Summer Package (including the Effort Sharing Decision and LULUCF, ratification of the Paris Agreement and decarbonisation of transport) which was due on 20 July. This will almost certainly be delayed until after the summer.

Time only will tell the full impact of the UK’s decision. Whatever the outcome, Fern will work harder than ever to make the EU’s policies and practices work for forests and forest peoples and encourage the UK to remain part of that.

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