Forests have a pivotal role in the resilience of our societies and economies. Unfortunately, in the absence of a strong rule of law, the “cut and run” behavior very often brings short-term revenue. Furthermore, in poor, forest- dependent communities the choice between revenue and sustainability is not so easy to make although the latter remains fundamental for people's well-being. But these two important goals — living better and living greener — should not be contradictory. They can go hand-in-hand.
Innovation (in technology but also in behaviour) brings effective solutions. For example, due to help offered by the European Union, rural communities in Armenia could test a new approach: briquetting and energy-efficient stoves. Within a pilot project, 15 rural households in three target communities of Armenia's Tavush region received free of charge energy-efficient stoves and wood briquettes for heating. The briquettes are produced from wood and agricultural residuals in a community briquette production unit. This activity, carried out as part of the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Programme's phase two, helps to demonstrate multiple benefits of environmentally-friendly livelihoods. The target communities are highly dependent on forests: although they have gas supply, up to 90% of households use fuelwood for heating and cooking because of affordability concerns. There is an upward trend of wood use for heating that the Programme counts to substantially reduce. Besides, briquetting will offer new employment opportunities and additional sources of income.
This is just one example with many other ones being available in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and in other Eastern Neighbourhood countries. They show that sustainable energy, waste management, and forest protection can go hand- in-hand and be of human scale, helping communities to improve their wellbeing in a climate-smart way.
The benefits of sustainable forest management are rooted in efficient policies and effective administration. This is what was intended to achieve with the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) I and FLEG II programmes. They have helped to improve national forest laws, facilitate stakeholder dialogue, increase the level of forest managers’ professionalism, as well as complete analytical studies and pilot projects. This has also led to a higher level of public awareness.
To the extent possible, FLEG has enabled the beneficiary countries to act but there is still a long way ahead. The growing pressures on the environment mean that the quest for sustainably must be pursued.
Supporting better forest management is one of EU’s global priorities and the EU is willing to offer further expertise and collaboration on forest law enforcement and governance to the partner countries. More generally, the EU is committed to further develop and strengthen its cooperation with Eastern Partnership countries, in all areas of mutual interest. The EU’s Global Strategy and the Revised European Neighbourhood Policy both call on the need to focus on increasing the resilience of EU's neighbours.
Together, we aim at bringing tangible benefits to citizens. The recent Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting on Environment and Climate Change reinforced the need for such an approach. At this meeting, held on 17-18 October 2016, a clear vision for joint action was agreed. Ministers adopted the Declaration on Cooperation on Environment and Climate Change in the Eastern Partnership. It calls for joint action enabling a new model of growth that is based on energy and resource efficiency, business opportunities and jobs stemming from green economy, and climate neutrality. The Declaration underlines the role of good governance, with a special focus on evidence-based policy-making and law enforcement. It calls to integrate environment and climate- related goals into all policy areas and sectoral programmes. Ministers tasked the Panel on Environment and Climate Change to develop an Action Plan that would translate the Declaration into specific targets and goals. No doubt, protecting forest should be part of this plan.
At the same time, protecting forests should be part of our individual "action plans", be it in remote forest-dependent communities or in capital cities. This is part of the Commission's plans, and hopefully of all partner countries'plans too.
Head of Unit European Commission Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations Directorate C — NEIGHBOURHOOD EAST