Change in land uses is one of the main factors contributing to deforestation and one of the main challenges facing Mesoamerica. Existing laws and regulations are in need of revision in order to ensure efficient and effective implementation by institutions and state agencies. This is one of the main conclusions of the book: Legalidad forestal en Mesoamérica (Forestry Law in Mesoamerica) published on June 30, 2015 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre of the Environmental Law Programme.
“There must be clear and binding rules linking agriculture, livestock and forests, focusing on the relationship between forest conservation, legal and sustainable production and consumption base. This relationship should also lay responsibility, not only on countries to which the products concerned are exported, but also on those who consume, so as to provide an effective control…” said Dr. Grethel Aguilar, Regional Director of IUCN Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean and one of the book’s co-authors. Other co-authors of the book are Dr. Alejandro Iza, Director of the Environmental Law Centre of IUCN, Mario Peña Chacón, Professor at the University of Costa Rica and member of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), and Victor Milla, an IUCN forestry engineer.
The book has a dedicated chapter to each of the countries in the Mesoamerican region (from Mexico to Panama) as well as a regional chapter, a chapter focused on the international legal framework and, additionally, a presentation by Dr. Antonio Herman Benjamin, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law. The authors conducted extensive research on the legal systems of each country as well as on the standards of legality, forest management, control systems and judicial procedures.
Forests are currently facing pressures and threats associated with mining, hydroelectric and geothermal projects, agriculture, cattle ranching and infrastructure development including sometimes illegal logging. The mechanisms for effective decision making and timely public participation in deciding the future of forests are more urgent today than ever before.
The implementation of these laws in an effective and transparent manner, prevention of environmental crimes, incentives for conservation and sustainable management, payments for ecosystem services, regulation of exports based on the legality of the products and control and monitoring of the measures taken will be determining factors in the coming years in improving forest law in the region and beyond.
National studies have concluded that all countries have laws or regulations related to forests and also that, without exception, these laws pursue the conservation and sustainable use of forests.
Both exporting and importing countries should promote policies relating to the use of timber from a legal source. The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Agreements with the European Union - provided on a voluntary basis - offer an opportunity for states to export timber derived from sustainable and legal use to the European Union. The European Union and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) are supporting countries of the region so that they can voluntarily initiate these dialogues and strengthen the verification systems and the monitoring of timber.
While Mexico and Central America are currently not major exporters of timber and its byproducts to the European Union, the region could provide a good example of how to implement the FLEGT system. In countries like Guatemala, there is already political will to start getting familiar with the FLEGT system. Similarly, Honduras has expressed interest in the possibility of negotiating a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). It is however necessary to find mechanisms for the effective implementation of forest laws and their regulations.
This issue calls for laws and forestry policies in the sector to promote necessary measures and mechanisms for equitable sharing of benefits derived from forests, not only in relation to timber but also benefits related to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and benefits related to water and non-timber forest products among others. If this benefit-sharing does not take place, and transparency and accountability are not properly incorporated, it is likely that the road to legality will be impossible to achieve.