Forests are a livelihood source for an estimated 1.6 billion forest dependent peoples, many of whom are indigenous. These forest dependent peoples comprise 90% of the world’s people living in extreme poverty. It is vital that the World Bank’s safeguard policies ensure protections and rights for these communities, at a time when their resources are under ever-increasing threat from mining, logging, agribusiness expansion and other development projects.
The Bank’s safeguards should be informed by lessons learned from the implementation of Bank projects, through Inspection Panel cases and the 2013 IEG evaluation of the World Bank Forest Strategy implementation, the World Bank Justice for Forests study, as well as standards of other multilateral banks, including the ADB. The safeguard review must respond to the IEG’s conclusion that “poverty reduction, for the most part, has not been satisfactorily addressed” in World Bank Group forest interventions.
Research has proven conclusively that securing tenure rights of forest-dependent communities is the surest way of protecting forests and biodiversity. However, the Bank’s proposed new safeguard policies—now known as the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF)—threaten to undermine these rights and in the process make forests more vulnerable to destruction and degradation.
The current safeguards that the ESF stands to replace protect the rights of forest dependent communities by recognizing the role forests play in poverty alleviation. They include Operational Procedures on both natural habitats and on forests. The proposed updates, however, are much more narrowly focused on biodiversity. They have also introduced dangerous flexibility around development in protected areas, including critical habitats, as well as salvage logging in primary tropical forests. In addition, it is unclear whether the ESF’s language on ecosystem services, which implicitly link forest benefits to forest community benefits, will be binding.
A committee of the World Bank’s Board of Directors is set to consider—and authorize for approval—a final draft of the safeguards this week, which civil society and affected communities have not been permitted to review. It is crucial that the updated safeguards set a high bar for the protection of natural habitats, including forests and the communities that depend on them.