Liberia: EU Bemoans Violations in Forestry Sector


— Says poor regulations, sidestepping of laws fueling illegal logging activities

The head of the European Union (EU) Delegation has described as worrisome the blatant violations that have marred the Liberian forestry sector in recent years denying Liberians, especially rural communities, the needed resources to better their lives.

The lack of proper forest management plans and the ignoring of the laws that govern the sector, which is in effect fueling illegal logging activities across the country, EU Ambassador Laurent Delahousse said, are the real threats to forest regeneration. These vices, he believes, are affecting the commercial and the global value of the forest.

“Current situation in Liberia`s forest sector is “worrying,” the EU head of delegation said. “The lack of proper forest management plans, and illegal logging are real threats to forest regeneration and which affect the commercial and the global value of the forest.”

Delahousse made these comments when he served as a panelist on the Forest Governance panel at the just ended Forest and Climate Resilience Forum held in Monrovia, at the just ended Forest and Climate Resilience Forum where violations in the country’s forestry sector was one of two topical issues that took center stage for discussions. The forum was meant to review the Liberian government and the international community’s commitment to the protection of the country’s rainforest.

Prior to the hosting of the event, there were reports of widespread irregularities in the sector, as many accused the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government of ignoring calls from international partners to tackle illegalities in the forestry sector.

Delahousse noted at the close of the forum that Liberia has signed various international agreements to protect and conserve its forest from illegal logging but has failed to implement them.

"We haven’t seen enough pertinent and timely actions. What we have seen is rather an attitude of sometimes casual satisfaction, if not denial, as if everything was fine, as if just having the forest should entitle Liberia to receive funds from the international community, because those funds would somehow be owed to Liberia but climate finance doesn’t work like that," he said.

The international community, he said, measures and takes into consideration the efforts made by countries around the world to reverse the trend of deforestation.  "Investors do not put their money on the status quo or on promises but rather on concrete actions taken to improve the sector," the ambassador said. 

Ambassador Delahousse comments come amidst continuous calls by President George Weah to world leaders for the establishment of an African Carbon Market in order to build and strengthen capacities and resilience of African countries against climate change.

At the Conference of Parties (COP 26) held in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021, Weah proposed the idea of an African Carbon Market as the basis for a concerted effort to address climate change while utilizing the associated opportunities for the socio-economic development of the people.

“Together, we can make a difference as a shared community of global citizens with a common destiny." Together we can heal the world from the scourges of climate change," the Liberian Leader called on his colleagues and other delegates at the conference, he said.

Liberia is home to half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. Covering more than 60 percent of the nation's land space surface, forests are the fourth-largest contributor to the country's economy and an important source of income one-third of its population.

They also make Liberia one of the world’s hotspots for biological diversity, hosting more than 2,200 species of flora and nearly 900 fauna. However, the forests face pressing challenges due to illegal logging and other drivers of deforestation.

Timber played a significant role in funding the two civil wars that raged in the country between 1989 and 2003. Revenue from illegal exploitation of timber — alongside diamonds and rubber — fueled the conflict and armed the combatant groups.

In 2003, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber export after the Government failed to prove that the revenues were “used for legitimate social, humanitarian, and development purposes.”

The sanctions ultimately offered an opportunity for improved rule of law and were lifted three years later following ambitious reform efforts.

Nevertheless, forest governance in Liberia remains a challenge. Between 1990 and 2010, the country lost 12.2 percent of its forest cover, posing a threat not only to the communities depending on the forest for a living, but also to climate, wildlife, and biodiversity conservation. To tackle these challenges, the EU and Liberia signed the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in 2011.

He added that in 2011 Liberia signed the VPA to tackle illegal timber, but has failed to stop illegal logging. 

“These objectives were set up for 2012 and rescheduled and even to this day, ten years later, the objectives are not meant,” he said. 

The VPA is a bilateral timber-trade agreement between the European Union and a timber-exporting country outside the EU.

In 2011, Liberia signed up to the VPA under the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to protect its forest from illegal and ensure that timbers exported to the EU are illegally produced.  

The agreement commits the government of Liberia to develop systems and ensure sustainable management of all types of forest, and provides a legal framework.

"But the current situation is worrying, despite the important progress made in the past, we cannot say that the process is evolving today as it should. On the contrary we have a feeling of regression. Liberia is far from delivering FLEGT licenses,” Delahousse said. 

“This objective was set for 2012 and rescheduled for last year 2022. Even this date, 10 years later than the first objective, was not met, and by far.”

 VPAs are also intended to strengthen forest governance in timber-exporting countries by improving transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation.

Despite ten years now since the VPA agreement was signed, its objectives have not been met, as it should, Delahousse noted.

The VPA also commits Liberia to reform its governance to secure the long-term sustainability of Liberia’s forest sector while contributing to national economic development.

The enforcement of the laws that govern the forestry sector is a function of the state, and not the development partners, and the EU Ambassador has called on national leaders to do better.  "It is not the job of development partners to enforce the country’s laws; the government has to do that."

The forum was intended to reassess the commitment of the Liberian government and the international community to the protection of the country’s rainforest, amid widespread irregularities and impunity in Liberia’s forestry sector.

“There are doubts from some partners that Liberia is not moving in this direction, but the forest law says we should put under conservation at least 30 percent of all our remaining forest estates to conservation,” Saah David, Jr., the national coordinator of REDD+, one of the organizers of the event. 

REDD+ means reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

“The forum will be used as a means to now push partners to also recommit to helping Liberia help itself,” David added.

The event, hosted at the Ministerial Complex in Congo from February 2-3, 2023, was designed to catalyze renewed commitments and strengthen partnerships in sustainable forest management as key strategies supporting the Government of Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).

President George Weah, in his opening remarks renewed his advocacy for the establishment and operationalization of an African Carbon Market in order to help build and strengthen capacities and resilience against climate change.

It can be recalled that at COP 26 held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, the President proposed the idea of an African Carbon Market as the basis for a concerted effort to address climate change while utilizing the associated opportunities for the socio-economic development of the people.

Over 200 participants gathered at the conference to brainstorm on the country's forestry sector. The event features high-level regional and international Ministers and Directors spearheading forest management in their respective countries. 

Both community leaders, global experts on forests, economic development, and climate change, private sector leaders, and development partners, shared success stories about the benefits and opportunities the forest sector can offer to the overall economic development of Liberia.

Liberia’s forest sector has the potential to contribute to the reduction of extreme poverty and support increased prosperity along a low emissions development trajectory. 

However, the remaining forest blocks are under increasing threat due to their continued degradation and clearance for agricultural expansion, illegal logging, and mining activities, at both industrial and subsistence scales.