World Rainforest Movement

Australia: AFS certification scheme denounced by NGOs

In our previous issue (WRM Bulletin Nº 110), we published a section on “plantation certification at its worse”, including the case of the Pan European Forest Certification Scheme (PEFC), a programme for the endorsement of national certification schemes.

The Australian Forestry Standard (AFS), developed by the Australian logging industry and the Australian Government and Government agencies, is the Australian member of the PEFC Council. It is also a main element of the Australian Forest Certification Scheme (AFCS), started in 2000 to provide an “Australian forest certification scheme”.

Similar to other certification schemes, the AFS contributes to the expansion of large scale tree monocultures as long as it allows the conversion of forests to plantations. As an added negative attribute, it has also been heavily criticized by local environmental NGOs. In 2002, National Australian environmental non-government organisations (ENGOs) had expressed in a letter their complete rejection of the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS).

The NGOs had explained that as a result of the continued failure of the process to address any of their concerns, they had withdrew from the Standard’s development process at the beginning of that year because they had found that “there was no involvement of environmental interests in the development of either the Standard’s terms of reference, or the Steering Committee. The terms of reference were developed by the Australian Federal Government and the logging industry with no consultation of ENGOs or other stakeholders”. Also, they referred that the “repeated attempts by ENGOs to address these inequities were rejected by those driving the Standard’s development process”.

Standards Australia – self-described as the peak, non-government standards body in Australia which ensures the effective development of standards – had received ENGOs objections, but made no attempt to address their environmental concerns, particularly logging of old growth forests, conversion of native forests and native vegetation to plantations, clearfelling, and inappropriate use of chemicals.

All ENGO’s withdrew from the process in 2002 due to concerns over the lack of meaningful participation, and the contents of the draft standard. Since from then on the AFS has been developed and finalized without the involvement, support or endorsement of the environmental NGO sector, the ENGOs were deeply concerned that the Australian Government and the logging industry would seek either to gain mutual accreditation with other certification schemes or to misleadingly pass off this Standard as being independent and having the support of environmental stakeholders.

In an open letter issued in October 2005, Australian national ENGOs denounced that “despite the lack of a formal accredited Standard and the lack of ENGO participation, one accredited organization appears to imply in its materials that it is accredited under an AFS “Standard”, whilst materials on the AFS Ltd’s website appear to imply the ongoing participation of ENGOs.” They stated that “ENGOs do not – and did not – endorse any of the standards setting processes as the current and previous interim draft standards permit wood arising from clearing of native forests (including old growth and threatened species habitat) for conversion to single species plantations to be certified, as well as the poisoning of native wildlife, and continues to exclude ENGOs from meaningful participation in any of the standards setting processes.”

Being neither independent, nor third party, AFS’ poor performance adds to its responsibility as a promoter of the “green deserts”, with their heavy toll on the environment and the communities.

Article based on information from: “Open letter to European Union Environment and Trade Ministers, timber retailers, consumers and other interested parties”, June 2003; “Open letter from Australian national ENGO’s campaigning for forest protection and sustainable forest management”, October 2005, sent by Jutta Kill, FERN, e-mail: