World Bank Draft Policy on Forests Does Not Safeguard Primary Forests

The World Bank is in the final stages of review of its long awaited draft policy on forests. The proposed policy represents a severe weakening of the existing Operational Policy on Forests of 1993. Its planned provisions are unacceptable because they lack proper safeguards and pose a high risk to the forests and forest peoples who will inevitably be harmed when Bank projects go wrong.

They call it a “safeguard policy”, but according to, the World Rainforest Movement, and Environmental Defense, among others, the policy flies in the face of demands of civil society and ignores the advice given to the Bank by its own Technical Advisory Group.

It fails to address the main causes of deforestation the Bank identifies as globalization, and economic liberalization, and poor governance. It relies on market forces or marketing arrangements to address deforestation. Large-scale timber export and carbon sequestration projects are the likely beneficiaries. Yet there is no evidence to date that these projects can be effective in promoting environmentally sound and socially equitable development.

The proposed policy opens the doors to Bank extractive investments in all types of forests except those Bank bureaucrats deem to be “critical forests”. The only mention of participation is where the proposed policy calls for the private sector as well as local people and non-governmental organizations to provide input in establishing timber certification systems, based on the borrower country national laws and institutions. Given the balance-of-power in many of the worlds main forest countries where governments and the logging companies operate in highly destructive and non-equitable ways, a much stronger requirement for the rights of affected people is called for.

Instead of proposing clear and strong new safeguards to protect the worlds forests, the proposed policy refers to the World Bank’s “Safeguard Policy for Natural Habitats”, a policy that has been largely ineffective and has not halted destructive investment projects. It also refers to its Indigenous Peoples Policy, yet this policy does not secure the tenure rights of indigenous forest peoples and fully ignores the hundreds of millions of non-indigenous people depending on forests for their survival.

Among the more disappointing and disturbing elements in the new draft policy are the following:

* Despite demands from all those consulted that the policy should apply to the whole World Bank Group, the draft policy does not apply to the Banks private sector arms, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

* Despite public commitments from Senior Bank Management, the draft policy does not apply to structural adjustment or programmatic lending.

* Although the policy applies to the Banks country level planning (Country Assistance Strategies and Economic and Sector Work), only vague assurances are made that, where strategies are found to threaten forests or forest dwellers, the impacts will be addressed: no details are given of how the Bank will do this or what must be done by Borrowers or clients to avoid such impacts.

* In response to 15 years demanding such by NGOs, the policy does appear to apply to all Bank projects that may impact forests (and not just forestry projects). But it sets no new standards. The policy merely invokes the existing Natural Habitats policy, which it is widely admitted has not been protecting forests adequately.

* Under the draft policy, Bank projects may trash most forests. Even critical forests can be trashed, where alternative locations are not considered feasible and as long as undefined mitigatory measures are proposed.

* The previous policy proscribed World Bank funding of logging in primary moist tropical forests. NGOs demanded this proscription be extended to cover all old growth forests. Instead the Bank proposes it may now fund logging in all types of forests except those it decides are critical.

* The Banks technical advisors had recommended that the determination of what are critical forests in any one country or area should be established through participation with interested groups. Instead the draft gives authority to determine these areas to Bank technocrats.

* The previous policy only permitted the Bank to fund plantations on non-forested areas or heavily degraded forest lands. The new draft policy allows plantations to be established in forests, although it prefers these not be areas specially cleared for the plantation.

* Bank funding of commercial logging will now be subject either to third party certification or an action plan promising such. However, beyond a vague list of issues to be addressed, the policy does not make clear what standards of certification are acceptable to the Bank, thus opening the way to rogue certifiers.

* The previous policy sought commitments from Borrower countries to sustainable forest management and the institutional and policy framework to achieve this. This requirement has been dropped.

* In the 1993 policy, projects to promote private sector forestry had to be accompanied by measures to ensure the participation of civil society. The requirement has been dropped.

* The previous policy required Borrower commitments to reserve areas for conservation alongside forest exploitation. The requirement has been dropped.

* The previous policy required Borrower commitments to reserve areas for forest dwellers. NGOs and the Banks own technical advisors had urged the inclusion of stronger provisions to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers. Instead these requirements have been weakened.

* The previous policy noted the Bank does not finance projects that contravene applicable international environment agreements. NGOs had recommended this provision should be strengthened to include applicable international human rights agreements. Instead, the Bank has dropped this requirement altogether.

* The Banks technical advisors recommended that provisions be included to ensure that projects would alleviate poverty. The Bank has ignored the advice.

Apparently hoping that most NGOs and governments will be too preoccupied with their preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to carefully assess the draft policy, the Bank offered only a six week aperture for comments on the draft (comments must be submitted by 2 August 2002 – send your email anyway!).

NGOs are calling on the Bank and the Banks executive Directors to:
* Delay finalisation of the policy until adequate time is given for debate and further inputs
* Rewrite the draft policy in line with the technical advice and NGO recommendations made during the Banks public consultations on its Forest Policy Implementation Review and Strategy (FPIRS)

If you would still like to send an email: [sorry this link is no longer available]

Further information:
Comparison of World Bank Forest Policies

World Rainforest Movement Special Section on World Bank

New draft policy with comments submitted by NGOs

Source: World Rainforest Movement

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