I am off to the Caucasus

I am off to Tbilisi this evening, to visit the IUCN Caucasus Cooperation Centre, our office in the southern Caucasus.  I am joined by the coordinator of our European neighbourhood forests governance (ENPI-FLEG) project.

The ENPI FLEG project phase 1 was a three-year World Bank-IUCN-WWF implemented project with mainly EC funding.  The overall objective of the project is to contribute to establishing legal and sustainable forest management and utilisation practices, strengthening the rule of law, and enhancing local livelihoods in the participating countries in the Russian Federation, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine and the three southern Caucasus countries.  We subsequently received additional funding from GIZ to work in the Caucasus.

Now, we are negotiating the second phase, and we expect the first decision from the European Commission on 26 June.  The next step is to reach agreement with the World Bank, who will be managing the funds.  We hope to launch phase 2 in September this year.

Our Tbilisi Office has a major role to play in the next phase, and we are meeting Members, partners and our office staff to discuss options for the future.  We hope that the new ENPI FLEG project, possibly with additional resources from one or two of the EU Member States, will enable IUCN to play a significant role in forest governance and policy development in the Caucasus during the coming years.

A key issue that is becoming more and more critical is the demand from the European Commission through the Renewable Energy Directive for all EU Member States to have 20% of their energy from renewable sources, and half of that from bio-energy.  This raises the question if there is enough forest in Europe to satisfy this demand, and how to manage competition with paper and pulp and other wood-dependent industry.  Most likely, wood will have to be imported, and a complication is added through the new timber import regulation 995, which stipulates that all timber entering the European Union has to be certified.  Finally, the cost of transport and the need to limit green house gas emissions make it more and more economical for EU Member States to source timber from Eastern Europe, rather than importing wood from the tropics or USA.

So, what started as a relatively simple forest governance project is becoming a programme dealing with local livelihoods, energy flows and industrial competition.

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