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New ClientEarth law reform guide can help strengthen forest governance

There is a growing global awareness that forests play a key role in tackling climate change. This has led to laws governing the environmental and forest sector to be revised – particularly in tropical and subtropical countries, from Cambodia to Republic of the Congo.

Not only do these law reforms seek to improve the protection and management of forests. They also often reflect international commitments taken by governments on forest protection, sustainable forest management and indigenous rights.

New initiatives by governments to reform their forestry laws are welcome. But in order for these reforms to lead to real and lasting changes, the laws must be strong, enforceable and inclusive.

For years, our legal experts have been working alongside national civil-society organisations and partners in West and Central Africa to help improve forest governance by inputting into effective legal reforms. This work has given us valuable insight into how laws must be developed if they are to be effective in practice.

As a culmination of this work, we’ve published a guide on law reform in the forestry sector. By offering guidance and outlining best practices, it gives law makers and civil society organisations from around the world the tools needed to ensure strong law reforms.

What does the guide include?

The guide has been developed to help advise governments, civil society and other stakeholders engaged in legal reforms in the forest sector.

It covers questions on how to design and carry out quality reform processes and ensure meaningful stakeholder participation. It also looks at how to design and draft clear and coherent laws.

The guide includes:

  1. Guidance on the key steps for law reform in the forestry sector
  2. Presentation of tools to ensure meaningful stakeholder participation
  3. Description of law drafting techniques to ensure new laws are valid and consistent
  4. Case studies with lessons learned from Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Ghana and Republic of Congo
  5. Final checklist of dos and don’ts to consider when beginning any legal reform process

The guide can be used as a tool throughout the legal reform process.

What are the key tips for successful law reform?

One of the most important components of forestry law reform is that the objectives of the reform are known and agreed by stakeholders beforehand. This should ideally result from a policy document, which helps ensure clarity and purpose.

Law reform processes should also be participatory. This means they are inclusive to civil society and other stakeholders, and welcome public engagement. All beneficiaries should have a chance to take part – particularly forest-dependent communities.

In addition to being transparent and participatory, law reforms should learn from the strengths and weaknesses of enforced laws. Ideally, the law reform will bolster existing laws that have been proven to work well.

Finally, forests are multifunctional, and serve many distinct purposes. Because of this, it is essential that forest reforms coordinate with all relevant administrations and sectors.

Why are legal reforms so important?

Legal reforms are a key focus of our forestry work. They present an opportunity to bring about real change because they are a way to modify existing rules and conditions to suit a new change in situation, or a shift in priorities.

For the forest sector, legal reforms can be started for several reasons. Recognising a new wildlife that needs to be protected, or recognising new commitments to combat deforestation are changes that can open up the legal reform process.

Efforts to ensure indigenous rights are protected in forest areas can also be strengthened by legal reforms.

As new reforms are instituted, it is important that high-quality laws are drafted that can be easily implemented. Building effective laws has proven to be a key way to ensure sustainable forest management. On the other hand, ineffective laws can lead to legal gaps and uncertainty, and in turn difficulties in implementation.

With the importance of the legal reform process in mind, our guide can help facilitate the creation of effective laws that can support forest-dependent communities and protect and preserve forests. It is important to get it right, so the push for more sustainable forest governance can result in meaningful change.

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