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FSC’s Kim Carstensen says Canada could set the benchmark for others to follow

May 6 , 2016 - As director general, one of my key roles is to help evolve FSC standards to represent today’s issues and debates. Naturally, these issues vary greatly by country and region. So rather than deploy one set of rules across the world, we enable each country to agree how to interpret and use our rules on a national level. It’s a process that inevitably raises debate, but this is something I feel is vital to FSC’s growth as an organization.

Nowhere is this process better demonstrated than in Canada, a country I have visited regularly in recent months. In Canada alone, a third of all FSC-certified forest is located, which makes it incredibly important to us. But it is the debates going on here that make the country particularly interesting right now. While it is experiencing issues that many forestry companies share, the way Canada is coming together to deal with these issues is rather unique, and I believe it sets a bar for how responsible forest management can be achieved in the future.  

Raising local issues
Last year, we released the first draft of our International Generic Indicators, which is our basis for individual countries to decide how to develop their own, national standards. As soon as we introduced these to Canada, a wide range of groups began to bring their opinions to the table.

On one hand, we have the Indigenous groups of Canada’s forests, who are requesting that FSC guarantees a strong voice for their people in the forests they live in. This will allow them access to resources and enable them to live in the land of their ancestors while maintaining and developing their culture and spiritual values.
At the same time environmental organizations are demanding that our standards provide strong protection for species at risk - in Canada, particularly the woodland caribou.

Then we have the forestry companies, who want to understand how they will be able to harvest enough timber to maintain their industries and the jobs that come with it. And who are asking what it will take to meet the requirements of our standards, especially if Indigenous groups or environmental organizations impose limitations on forestry in many areas.

On top of this there is the Canadian government, which owns the forests in Canada and only gives out land as concessions. To start any forestry activities, you need to be given the mandate from the government.  

Finally, you have the UN, which has agreed a declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes requirements for ‘free prior informed consent’. This is a concept aiming to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have a say over what happens to the land they inhabit, before action such as forestry operations is taken. This opens the door for a great deal of debate to take place.

Achieving a collective response
So how does Canada answer these issues? You would be forgiven for thinking things would descend into chaotic infighting among all the interested stakeholder groups. In Canada, we see almost all stakeholders getting together to find constructive solutions. We also see governments creating positive initiatives like the caribou plan that was recently released by the provincial government of Quebec. This provides a great basis for discussion among all stakeholders that rely on the forest, be it unions, NGOs, government, Indigenous groups or forestry companies. 

In this process, the concerns of all parties are put on the table in equal share. We received close to 500 pages of comments to the first draft of the new Canadian FSC Forest Management standard. Based on these, we will now set out a next consulting phase that aims to agree Canada’s new national standard. We will have more discussions across the different interests, and we will set up field tests to help us understand every proposed measure of the new standard. 

For sure, this is a long and cumbersome working model for achieving national standards. But for me, it is the direct way to achieve agreement on an ambitious and forward-looking standard that will define Canadian forestry for the 21st century. Canadian stakeholders can do this, if they articulate what is at stake. Maintaining productive and healthy forests for the benefit of people around the world is our true core mission, and we are here to remind all stakeholders of that. Keep the goal in mind, and the steps for getting there become that much easier.

By bringing all of Canada’s key groups together in tough, honest discussions, I am sure we will come up with a workable national standard. And this will be more than a national achievement, because on a global scale, what we agree in Canada can be an inspiration for all of FSC. Using democracy as our tool to work through tough questions is our duty, and by making the process work effectively, Canada can become a lesson to us all, providing a leading light to the forestry of the future.

May 6, 2016  By Kim Carstensen

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