Goal 10: Strengthen forest governance, transparency, and the rule of law, while also empowering communities and recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those pertaining to their lands and resources

Key Messages

  • For all but one sub-indicator, the datasets used to assess progress for Goal 10 are not updated annually, and none of these have been updated in the period since our 2015 assessment report was published. Updated information is available only on the number of violent deaths connected to forest or land issues.
  • New data on land- and forest-related killings show 2015 was the worst year on record, with 181 killings recorded, compared to 113 in 2014, and an average of 104.6 killings annually from 2010-2014.
  • There have been relevant developments in policy frameworks to strengthen forest governance, including the adoption of legislation to promote legal timber in Japan, substantial enforcement of existing legislation in Australia, the European Union and the United States, and the launch of a voluntary initiative to promote legal timber in China.
  • While implementation of many Voluntary Partnership Agreements established under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan continue to face hurdles, Indonesia looks set to be the first country to issue FLEGT licenses for exporting to the EU at the end of 2016.
  • The launch of the LandMark map represents an important development in enhancing data on the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, while data collection efforts planned under the Sustainable Development Goals framework may also be an important future source of data.




Goal 10 mandates advances in forest governance, transparency and the rule of law, together with the empowerment of communities and indigenous peoples in relation to their land and resource rights.

Forest governance is an encompassing concept that includes transparency and the rule of law. It is founded in strong, transparent and well-functioning policies and institutions. Community empowerment and the land and forest tenure rights of local communities can also be considered as one of the component elements of forest governance. Recognition of these rights can often lead to better governance overall, though arguably also goes beyond questions of ‘good governance’, and extends to moral rights to lands that have traditionally been owned and stewarded by such communities. Given the complex and multi-faceted nature of this goal, attempts to measure it are bound to be imperfect. In our 2015 report we chose three sets of indicators for which robust data is available and which cover many of the central elements of forest governance. These are listed in Table 10.

The datasets used to evaluate these indicators have not been updated since we assessed them for the 2015 report, with the exception of the data for Indicator 2.3. There have nonetheless been a number of notable developments with respect to the strengthening of institutions and policies.


table 10



Criterion 1: Improvement of forest governance through the strengthening of institutions and policies

There have been a number of notable developments in the development and implementation of policies designed to strengthen forest governance that are worth highlighting.(46)


Development #1. Producer countries

A number of timber-producing countries have been making progress in developing legal frameworks for ensuring the legality of timber exports, primarily in the context of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. While six countries have already concluded and are implementing VPAs, the agreements have experienced a number of challenges in implementation, and most have not yet completed the development of the Timber Legality Assurance Systems mandated by the agreements and required for producing certified timber.

Indonesia has however completed and begun to implement its legality assurance system – one of the key steps needed to meet the terms of its VPA – and is expected to be the first country to issue FLEGT  licenses for exporting to the EU in November 2016.(47) Having already implemented its legality assurance system for several years, the system has been strengthened and enhanced under the VPA, allowing for FLEGT licenses to be issued.


Development #2. Consumer and processer countries

Japan became the fourth major consumer of forest products to adopt legislation designed to combat the trade of illegal timber or promote legal timber. In contrast to laws in Australia, the European Union and the United States, Japan’s Law to Promote the Distribution and Use of Legally Logged Wood focuses on the promotion of legal timber rather than restricting illegal imports, and relies on voluntary company engagement. Nonetheless, the law represents an important step in enhancing demand-side measures to combat illegal logging. Progress in developing legal frameworks to control illegal logging is also underway in South Korea, where the government is currently working to operationalize a clause in its Forestry Act 2012 that requires it to establish measures to prevent the distribution or use of illegal timber, both domestic and international.

Meanwhile consumer countries with legality assurance systems in place appeared to make good progress in implementing those systems. A survey undertaken by Forest Trends indicated that there have been substantial enforcement actions underway under the EU, US and Australia timber legality frameworks in the six month period September 2015 – March 2016, including 495 company site inspections, 396 Corrective Action Requirements and 55 sanctions.(48) In addition in 2015, the US Department of Justice secured the first criminal conviction under its timber legality legislation, resulting in a fine of US$13.5 million – the highest financial penalty for timber trafficking awarded to-date.

In the European Union the long-awaited independent evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan was released in 2016.(49) The review highlighted a range of successes in implementing the Action Plan and improving forest governance in targeted countries, and considered to be “fully relevant, comprehensive and future-proof.” However, it also raised a number of challenges. While recommending that its main pillars and action areas be retained, it advised that FLEGT support to producing countries be delivered in a more demand-driven and flexible manner, and that delays and problems affecting VPAs be addressed and the private sector be more involved. The review also highlighted the importance of focusing on non-VPA countries and building international coalitions if global illegal logging and trade is to be addressed.

There was also progress in enhancing legality in processor countries. In April 2016 China launched the China Responsible Forest Product Trade and Investment Alliance (China RFA). The China RFA is a voluntary partnership of companies engaged in timber production, processing and trade who are committed to trading in legal timber. Members – which to-date include 18 forest product trading companies – undergo a due diligence process and provide annual reports on traded products, while the Alliance provides guidelines and tools for legality assurance.


Criterion 2: Extension and strengthening the rule of law

Indicator 2.3: Number of killings connected to a forest or land issue

New figures for Indicator 2.3, on the number of killings related to land and natural resource disputes are available. While our 2015 report provided figures of annual deaths from 2010-14, recent analysis by Global Witness shows the number of killings recorded in 2015 to be the highest on record. In this year there were 181 killings recorded with a clear, proximate and documented connection to a land or forest issue. This compares with 113 in 2014, and an average of 104.6 killings annually from 2010-2014.

As with previous years’ assessments, it is assumed that the 2015 figures show only part of the picture, with many more killings going unreported. The incompleteness of the data means that it remains difficult to establish a clear global trend on this issue. Nonetheless, the extent of the increase of reported killings in 2015 – whether representative of more killings, greater reporting, or both – emphasizes the acuteness and gravity of this issue, and the governance failures it points to.

All the killings recorded in 2015 were linked to the control of land and natural resources, which are the subject of a large number of disputes across all major regions, and whose “alarming number” has recently been highlighted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.(50;51) The largest number (40) were linked to mining and extractive industry developments, followed by agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and illegal logging. The largest number continue to be documented in Latin America, though there was a major increase in documented killings in Asia, which in 2015 accounted for almost one third of the total. All killings took place in tropical forest countries, and over a third of victims were indigenous peoples. There continues to be little prosecution of perpetrators linked to these killings, indicating grave failures in the rule of law across tropical forest countries.




Much of the data that has been used for the assessment of Goal 10 is not updated annually, and so assessments of progress will only be available periodically, in accordance with the priorities and availability of resources of the organizations collecting it. More frequent data collection would enable more regular assessment of most of the indicators under this goal. The substantive data gaps highlighted last year with respect to these indicators – including the limited number of countries included in the assessments of policy frameworks, illegal logging and imports at high risk of illegality – remain relevant.

The data gaps highlighted in our 2015 report with respect to the figures on killings related to land and forest disputes also remain relevant, in particular that the research is still limited to killings and not to other forms of violence, and that these killings are likely underreported.

There have been a number of important data developments in the past year that can be expected to enhance the assessment of the land and forest rights of indigenous people and local communities in the future.


Data development #1. LandMark to provide information on land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities

An important development in collecting data on the land and forest rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities was made in November 2015 with the launch of the LandMark map.(52) LandMark is the first online, interactive global platform to provide maps and other critical information on lands that are collectively held and used by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs). It includes both bottom-up information on specific land areas that are reported as in practice owned or occupied by IPLCs, and national-level estimates of the proportion of total land that is owned or occupied by IPLCs. In addition, the platform maps the legal security of IPLC lands under different countries’ legal frameworks.


Data development #2. Development of indicators on tenure security under the Sustainable Development Goals

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015, countries agreed to, by 2030, ensure that all women and men have ownership and control over land and other forms of property (Target 1.4). In March 2016, the body charged with developing indicators to measure progress toward the SDGs, agreed that this target be measured based on the following indicator:

Proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land, with legally recognized documentation and who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and by type of tenure.

Given the lack of data and agreed methodologies for assessing this indicator, UN Habitat and the World Bank have been tasked with developing detailed methodologies for assessing it. These are expected to be finalized in October 2017, and data will be collected every year for more developed countries, and every 3-5 years for less developed countries.


Data development #3. WRI study finds substantial mitigation benefits and high cost-effectiveness of securing land rights for indigenous groups

A recent report by WRI quantified the economic value of securing land rights for the communities who live in and protect forests, focusing on Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon.(53) The analysis shows that the registration of Indigenous land rights can provide a low-cost and cost-effective investment for mitigation and other ecosystem services. Deforestation rates in areas with secure land rights were found to be 2-3 times lower than in comparable areas without registration.