Fragmentation of the International Forest Regime Complex

What is the problem? Commodity-driven deforestation: definition, impacts and drivers

Many actors in the international and transnational arena agree that deforestation is one of the key global environmental problems of our times, but its definition, measurement and framing wary considerably across actors, sectors and disciplines.

Why do we need to protect our forests?
Infographic Drivers and Effects of Commodity-driven Deforestation (Data sources: Hosonuma et al. (2012) &Curtis et al. (2018))

Who is part of the problem and its governance? — An actor analysis

But who is involved in causing the problem and who is trying to tackle it? The actors that are involve in causing the problem are those active along the commodity-supply chain, going from the local farmer worker to us, the final consumer, but the most powerful actors driving the problem can be seen in the infographic above: multinational commodity companies, traders and nation states promoting international commodity trade.

Actor Analysis — Actors active in International and Transnational Governance of Forests and Commodity-Driven Deforestation

What are the governance arrangements and intervention mechanisms of the current international forest regime complex?

It is clear from this network that they are many proposed governance solutions, but that there is not one main international institution, for example like the UNFCC for the climate regime, tasked to internationally govern specifically forest issues. There is not a single state-centred legally binding international treaty focused exclusively on forests. In the 1990’s nation states tried and failed to negotiate a binding international forest convention and instead compromised by creating the UN Forum on Forests, an intergovernmental forum for non-binding discussions and target setting (Rayner, 2010, p. 10,40). This leads some literature to argue that there is no forest regime at all. The majority of the academic discourse however believes that the various loosely tied forest-related governance arrangements build an international forest regime complex. But what does that mean?

International Forest Regime Complex and its corresponding intervention mechanisms (Sources: Giller et al. (2008, p. 5) & Sotirov et al.(2020))

Is the current international forestry regime complex ineffective? and why?

An institution’s or even a whole regime complex’s effectiveness is rely difficult to measure and decide upon as the discussion already starts on what effectiveness even means:

Reasons for the ineffectiveness of the international forest regime complex (Sources: Bernauer et al. (2013); Brown (2001); Dimitrov (2005); Giessen (2013); Humphrey (2006); Sotirov et al. (2020); Rayner et al. (2010); Rodriguez et al. (2019))

Does institutional design hinder? A case study of the ITTO

As previously stated, one potential reason for a regime’s ineffectiveness can be due to its institutional design in combination with nation states’ characteristics involved in commodity-driven deforestation. It can cause little real participation of its member’s in it and/or reduce the depth of the institution. To explore this argument, I had a closer look at the ITTO. I chose it because it is the most important legally-binding international treaty who’s mandate addresses commodity-driven deforestation the closest. I conducted an actor-side analysis based on Sprinz and Vaahtoranta’s (1994) framework and an institution-side analysis based on a combination of Koremenos et al. (2001) institutional design framework and Bernauer et al. (2013) framework on the depth vs. participation dilemma. Please have a look at the following video and learn more about the ITTO and its lack in participation and depth!

Does institutional design hinder participation and depth? A case study of the ITTO

Is regime fragmentation the key driver of the the International Forest Regime Complex ineffectiveness?

The fact that a regime is to some degree complex doesn’t have to have per se negative consequences and lead to its ineffectiveness. Complexity could theoretically have positive feedback effects, increase cooperation and integration and finally the regime’s effectiveness (Alter & Meunier, 2009). Complexes can have the advantage of being more flexible across topics and sectors, adaptable over time and easier to from than an integrated legally-binding regime (Young, 2011, p. 19856). Complexes themselves can however have different degrees of integration, from being fully integrated to fragmented. But what is fragmentation?

Explanations for the conflictive fragmentation of the International Forest Regime Complex (Sources: Dimitrov (2005); Giessen (2013); Hall (2015); Humphrey (2006); Rodriguez et al. (2019); Sotirov et al. (2020)

Is there a way forward? Is there a way to reduce conflictive fragmentation?

Based on Hall’s (2015) framework, in theory the creation of a legally-binging international treaty with the sole narrow supervisory mandate to address forests could reduce the conflictive fragmentation. However, Rayner et al. (2010, p. 93–110,137–147) strictly oppose this solution and argue that nation-states have already wasted enough time trying to negotiate a treaty-based top-down regime and that this would add just another ineffective layer of complexity. They suggest instead that complexity should be embraced and policies developed that coordinate and integrate coherently across multi-level and cross-sectoral governance to ensure more synergic relationships. Additionally, they see the key need to coordinate incremental policy improvements in to the same progressive direction instead of proposing grand new concepts like sustainable development or the new emerging concept of regeneration. As at the beginning stated, deforestation is a local-cumulative problem and any solution to it needs to be designed considering the local context, therefore no unique global solution is possible but many local solutions need to be integrated and orchestrated. Additionally, Sotirov et al. (2019) state that we need to accept that in forest-related issues win-win solutions are rarely possible, but that there is a need to coordinate trade-offs between forest conservation, economic development and social equity. In other words, they are both implicitly proposing the need to transform an existing actor or create a new one that takes the mandate of becoming the international forest regime complex orchestrator.

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Annia Costermani

Annia Costermani

Master Candidate in Development Studies specialising in Sustainability and Environment