The Report

FLEGT and tackling drivers of deforestation

Wednesday 18 March, from 9:00 to 12:30



  • Conversion for agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation. An estimated 50% of all tropical deforestation is illegal and timber and agricultural commodities derived from such conversion are destined for the EU market  
  • EU FLEGT Action Plan instruments can be used to prevent illegal conversion timber from entering the EU markets
  • Improved governance is crucial is address illegal forest land conversion
  • A broad range of instruments are emerging to secure forest friendly development, including private sector commitments on zero-deforestation, REDD+ and green growth strategies
  • Drivers of deforestation should be addressed through more coherent EU policies frame 


Sam Lawson, Earthsight, presented on the trends in forest land conversion. Half of all tropical deforestation is illegal conversion of forest for commercial agriculture. Although lack of reliable data is an issue, it is clear that illegal forest land conversion is a major problem. Timber and agricultural commodities derived from such conversion are illegal and a large proportion is destined for the EU market. Conversion timber is not the main driver, but rather agricultural commodities because of their greater value. Blocking access of illegal conversion timber through FLEGT instruments is therefore not sufficient to address the problem of illegal forest land conversion.     

Sam Lawson, Earthsight

"One can block access to markets of illegal conversion timber but the clearing will still take place because of the greater value of the agricultural commodities grown or reared on the converted land"

Participants considered the problem of illegal conversion timber in Cameroon, Indonesia and Vienam and how to address it. In Vietnam, it was suggested that the domestic market be included in VPA negotiations as much conversion timber is imported from neighbouring countries and destined for the domestic market. Participants expressed concern that SVLK enforcement in Indonesia could pose a risk for credible FLEGT licensing of Indonesian timber. An improvement in the standard is suggested to ensure not only the existence of a permit but whether the land clearance it allows is legal according to Indonesian law.

An Lambrechts, Greenpeace

"Auditors should be looking not only at whether or not permit exists but whether it was issued according to Indonesia´s legislation"

In Cameroon, it is expected that timber in the future will only come from mining and agricultural concessions. In many cases forestry concession are overlapping with other land uses and there is no clear legal framework to deal with these conflicts. According to civil society, the VPA in Cameroon can offer solutions if all stakeholders can participate in the decision making processes dealing with land uses.  

Colombia is not engaged in a VPA process, but FLEGT has helped to raise awareness of governance and of tools available to address challenges of deforestation and illegality, such as for the voluntary Pact on Legal Timber. Through the Pact, many different sectors are engaged in formal discussion to address illegal logging.

Panellists explained how the EU FLEGT Action Plan, and VPAs in particular, has instruments to address illegal conversion timber, although the FLEGT Action Plan was never intended to address deforestation. Some participants suggested that loopholes in the VPAs can be fixed and the instruments can be better used in order to better take into account land tenure and the differences between customary and statutory laws. Others suggested that the Action Plan could be adapted, or even a new action plan developed, to better take into account the new realities on illegal forest land conversion. Several participants called for a proper implementation of the EU Timber Regulation as a first step in addressing illegal forest conversion.

Panellists discussed ways to address forest land conversion beyond the remit of the Action Plan. In the run-up to the Paris conference at the end of 2015, the Climate Change Talks give additional profile to agriculture, forestry and land use, including REDD+. Participants said improved land use governance is crucial to addressing drivers of deforestation and called on the EU to bring REDD+ and FLEGT closer together. Although there are many differences between both processes, they can be considered as two sides of the same coin when it comes to dealing with the governance failures driving tropical deforestation.

Saskia Ozinga, FERN

"Just like the EU FLEGT Action Plan brought stakeholder together to discuss forest governance in a clear way, a similar process would need to be undertaken to address land use policies that recognise tenure rights and bridge local forest use and conservation with commodity production for Europe" 

Panellists discussed a broad range of other public and private instruments to secure forest friendly development.

Participants recommended that timber and agricultural commodity producing countries should conduct land use discussions at the national level and make decisions to balance economic development and forest conservation in green growth strategies. Liberia illustrated how it signed up to the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) to help reconcile different interests. Also, a new land right policy has been enacted into a law, ensuring the government can no longer allocate large areas of land without the consent of local communities. In Vietnam, a new government regulation requires new rubber plantations to be established only on heavily degraded lands to reduce forest conversion. Enforcement of legal frameworks nevertheless remains a challenge in many commodity producing countries.

Increasingly, commodity companies are making zero-deforestation commitments with reference to land use, high conservation values and carbon stocks. Although certification schemes have been the key focus so far, corporate commitments to deforestation-free supply chains go beyond certification. Public-private initiatives, such as the Tropical Forest Alliance, are bringing consumer goods manufacturers and retailers and governments closer together to translate commitments into action, such as the TFA 2020 Action Plan on Oil Palm Development in Africa.

Some participants underlined the need for more policy coherence on deforestation at EU level. While promoting FLEGT and REDD+ policies, the EU is also contributing to forest destruction in Asia and Latin America through its EU bioenergy policy. They said an EU action plan on deforestation is needed to re-enforce policy coherence and foster forest friendly development. 


Illegal forest conversion for agricultural commodities is responsible for half of all tropical deforestation. EU FLEGT Action Plan instruments can be used to help to address illegal conversion timber. However, dealing with illegal conversion timber alone will not halt forest land conversion. A wide range of instruments for improving land use governance and addressing demand and supply for agricultural commodities from converted land is needed to tackle illegal and legal land conversion. Framing land-use policies in green growth strategies at the national level, linking FLEGT and REDD+ policies, and encouraging public-private partnerships on forest friendly commodities are crucial and should be supported by a coherent EU policy framework for combatting the drivers of deforestation and fostering forest friendly development.  


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Moderator Julia Falconer, DFID


  • Sam Lawson, Earthsight
  • Phuc To, Forest Trends Vietnam
  • An Lambrechts, Greenpeace
  • Luz Stella Pulido, Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia
  • Patrice Kamkuimo, CED, Cameroon
  • Giuliana Torta, European Commission, DG Environment
  • Peter Wehrheim, European Commission, DG Climate Action
  • Harrison Karnwea, Forestry Development Authority Liberia
  • Neil Judd, Proforest
  • Tran Thi Thuy Hoa, Vietnam Rubber Association
  • Saskia Ozinga, FERN
  • Penny Davies, Ford Foundation

Reporters Daphne Hewitt, EU FAO FLEGT Programme, Lea Turunen, EU FLEGT Facility, and Christophe Van Orshoven, EU REDD Facility

Keywords Conversion timber, forest friendly commodities, land use, deforestation, FLEGT, VPA