Session 4.1 The politics of forest governance: understanding power and global complexity


Jelle Behagel, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University

TA: Laura


  1. Bas Arts: Forest governance: Hydra or Chloris?
  2. Elke Verhaeghe: Politics of Indigeneity: Indigenous engagements with the EU-Honduras Voluntary Partnership Agreement
  3. Jelle Behagel: Forest fantasies: politics and forests in the Anthropocene
  4. Aynur Mammadova et al: Conceptualizing and tracing deforestation risk in commodities. The case of bovine leather


The first two decades of this centrum have shown increasing public and policy attention for forest governance. The story told is one of both successes and failures. After failed attempts in the 1990s to institute a legally binding global forest convention, from the 2000s onwards we have seen major progress on voluntary certification instruments, global forest instruments, important policy declarations such as the Ney York Declaration on Forests, and integration of forests in political agendas of climate change (Paris Agreement) and sustainable development (SDGs), amongst others. At the same time, we are living in a period in which there has never been so little global forest cover as today. Moreover, pristine forest, untouched by man, is no longer a reality anywhere in the world. As the stakes for forest governance, both globally and locally, thus become increasingly bigger, political dynamics equally gain in presence and dominance.
This panel explores how the politics of forest governance are taking shape in a world increasingly dominated by power and complexity. Specifically, the panel ask questions such as:
• Should the complexity of global relations of politics, trade, and environment be matched by equally complex forms of forest governance?
• Are political dynamics in forest governance changing to accommodate global climate, biodiversity, and inequality crises or do old power structures still dominate?
• Can more politicized approaches to forest governance counter global trends of forest loss and forest degradation?
• What role does civil society play in national and international fora in forest politics?
The panel explores these and related questions by drawing on multiple case studies and analysis across the world. We ask how forest politics move from global to local scales and vice versa. Finally, we explore new vocabularies and imaginaries to understand the politics of forest governance in an increasingly changing world.

Bas Arts, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University

Forest governance: Hydra or Chloris?

This paper summarizes a book-in-the-making on forest governance. It aims to offer a state-of-the-art review. Analytically, the book distinguishes three meta-discourses on forest governance: modes, shifts and norms. The first refers to multiple modes of governance in the state-market-society triangle, the second to shifts from government to governance and the third to various forms of good governance. Jointly, these three discourses relate to an outburst of many forest governance initiatives around the world the last couple of decades, such as National Forest programs (NFPs), Participatory Forest Management (PFM), Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), REDD+, and FLEGT. Now Hydra and Chloris – both figures from Greek mythology – are two metaphors to normatively evaluate this situation. Chloris, from the ancient Greek word khloris or ‘green’, is the Goddess of flowers. She stands for a positive and optimist view on all these governance initiatives: ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’. And there is a strong believe that these initiatives may make a difference on the ground. Hydra is the multi-headed, serpent-like beast that Heracles has to fight to complete his twelve labors. Every time he chops of a head, it immediately regrows double, and continues attacking him. This image mirrors the politics of forest governance: power, resistance, conflict and path-dependencies. So governance reforms and innovations have a hard time to truly change established practices, such as the political economy of deforestation and forest degradation, or do only successfully so in small niches. In the last part of the paper, both metaphors are weighted against one another. It is concluded, inspired by the work of Rosenau, that the world of forest governance is bifurcated. Governance innovation and political inertia may exist in parallel in many cases, being separated spatially, or struggle for dominance in others, while trying to suppress the one at the cost of the other.

Elke Verhaeghe, Centre for EU Studies, Ghent University, etiverha.

Politics of Indigeneity: Indigenous engagements with the EU-Honduras Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This paper analyses engagement by indigenous organisations with the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the European Union and Honduras. The FLEGT VPA agreement is aimed at the governing of bilateral timber supply chains between the EU and Honduras through legality verification and licensing of timber products. In addition, it contains elements aimed at ‘improving forest governance’ by increasing transparency and rule of law in the forest sector and through the organisation of multi-stakeholder dialogues. Engagement by indigenous actors has been considerable but not without contention: while most indigenous groups have constructively worked with the VPA in an attempt to advance indigenous rights, the Garífuna organisation OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras) and the Lenca organisation COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indíginas de Honduras) have criticised the VPA as a neoliberal and neocolonial project following logics of profit based on ‘green capitalism’ over nature conservation and the needs of indigenous communities. This paper sheds a light on this schism from a discursive perspective, asking how different indigenous actors (1) interpret and (2) reinforce or contest VPA discourses on timber trade, deforestation, and authority over natural resources. The research is based on a literature review, a document analysis of advocacy materials and social media posts by the
various indigenous organisations and federations, and online interviews to be conducted in December 2020 – March 2021.

Jelle Behagel, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University

Forest fantasies: politics and forests in the Anthropocene

Global policy initiatives to use forest conservation and restoration to counter climate change and halt biodiversity loss are gaining in popularity. These initiatives include forest conservation projects, global carbon markets, and political calls for large-scale reforestation. They are part of national climate commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015 and other global policy initiatives such as the ‘Bonn Challenge’ and the New York Declaration on Forests. While these commitments and initiatives have the power to mobilise many people, they also tend to ignore challenges of political resistance by vested interest and power structures, as well as feasibility of practical implementation of specific forest campaigns. We therefore call them fantasies, as the power these initiatives have to move and affect people play a large role in the enthusiastic adoption of them by states, companies, and civil society. This paper explores the role that forest fantasies play in policy and politics. It introduces the concept of fantasy as an analytical tool to study how political discourses, markets, forests, communities, and emotions are all articulated in fantasies that shape policy pathways for the future. The research explores three empirical examples: global zero deforestation commitments, private ref7orestation campaigns, and media uproar about the burning of the Amazon. The paper then details (1)how forests are articulated in global discourses on climate change and biodiversity loss; (2) how forest fantasies articulate and give shape to objects, discourse, and emotions; and (3) how fantasies of forest and nature connect emotions and desire to political objectives and ideals. The paper concludes with a reflection on the global fantasy of forest as the solution to global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and growing inequality.

Aynur Mammadova, TESAF Department, University of Padova,
Caroline Sartorato Silva França, TESAF Department, University of Padova,
Jelle Behagel, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University,
Mauro Masiero, TESAF Department, University of Padova,
Davide M. Pettenella, Professor- TESAF Department, University of Padova

Conceptualizing and tracing deforestation risk in commodities. The case of bovine leather

The production and trade of certain commodities have devastating impacts on tropical forests. Complex trade systems and global supply chains make full traceability a challenge complicating the link between places of commodity consumption and deforestation. These uncertainties are expressed with the term deforestation risk. In this regard, alternating terms such as commodity-driven deforestation, forest-risk commodity, and embedded deforestation are used. The exposure to embedded deforestation risk can happen through different channels. One identified channel of deforestation risk is through the supply chains of so called “by-products”, i.e. bovine leather as a by-product of beef. In this article, we explore and systematize the conceptualization of deforestation risk and use the case of Brazilian leather production to illustrate its implications. The research employs primary and secondary data. Primary data is mostly qualitative, in the form of face-to-face interviews and observation notes, collected by the first author during extended field research in Brazil in May-August 2018. Secondary data consists of extensive literature review, statistical data on annual slaughter, bovine hide/leather registry and annual deforestation, as well as geospatial data on deforestation, slaughterhouse and tannery locations. The research shows us that the concept of deforestation risk is loosely defined, yet highly relevant for current debates about policy and trade, and likely to be increasingly so in the future. Our case of Brazilian leather illustrates how the diverse emphasis in each of these conceptualizations also requires different types of methodology of assessment and measurement. Better conceptualization of deforestation risk as well as methods to assess and map it are therefore needed to inform policy and trade decisions. We argue that the choice of concepts when discussing the deforestation risk impacts how responsibility and accountability is constructed both through legal actions and voluntary sustainability standards by a sector itself.