Assessing severity of observations
What are severity parameters and why are they important?
Until now, most IM reports do not provide any information on the relative importance of an observation in the context of common infractions or in relationship to the legal framework. This is particularly true in reports from the mandated IM who often limit interpretations of their findings to ensure that their report remains objective. Unfortunately, it prevents a broader audience, non-specialized in forestry laws, to understand and use their findings. In addition, many reports are written in highly technical language, making it difficult for most readers to understand the relative importance of a given observation. For instance, a report may state that a given company harvested without a permit, but there is a significant difference between an instance in which a company harvested timber without obtaining a permit at all, or if it harvested the timber two weeks before the permit was officially granted.
To help OTP users understand the relative importance - or significance - of an observation on illegal logging or forest governance problem, WRI and its partners have developed a range of severity parameters for each observation category in collaboration with independent monitors. This severity approach makes it possible to group observations depending on their significance/impact on the natural resource, biodiversity, workers and economy. The parameters define 3 levels of severity: high, medium and low for each sub-category of observations.
For instance, for the subcategory “Harvesting without required permit”, the severity parameters are defined as follows:
- High: absence of permit
- Medium: harvesting before or after the authorized dates (one month or more)
- Low: harvesting before or after the authorized dates (less than one month)
What does the severity level of an observation mean?
The severity of an observation on illegal logging or governance problem refers to the relative significance in comparison to other observations of the same infraction. For instance, illegally cutting 500 trees is defined as more damaging than illegally cutting 10 trees. The OTP severity parameters do not compare severity of different categories or subcategory of illegal activity. In other words, infraction types are given equal weight.
How are severity parameters determined?
The parameters were determined through 4 basic steps.
- Compilation of IM observations from multiple countries and organizations
- Analysis of the range of observations in terms of impact
- Definition of proposed severity parameters based on the range of observations and legal text
- Discussions and finalization of the severity parameters with Independent monitors from the Congo Basin during a workshop.
The severity parameters are not static and will be updated periodically based on feedback from OTP users including forest companies and governments, further consultations with IMs, lessons learned from the deployment and geographic expansion of the OTP, and policy developments in producer and demand side countries.
What are the limitations of severity parameters?
Defining severity parameters is not an exact science and the process does not attempt to definitively determine the severity of a given observation. This system is designed to help OTP users interpret information and OTP users are encouraged to interpret the severity of an observation based on their own criteria.
It is worth highlighting that the thresholds used to define the severity categories may lead to under- or overestimation of severity. For example, the threshold for severe overcutting is 500 trees. As a result, an observation on the overharvesting of 499 trees would fall into the moderate category. OTP users are therefore encouraged to consider not only the severity parameter classification but also the details before coming to a conclusion about the importance of a given observation.
What is the geographic coverage of severity parameters?
The first stage of OTP development focuses on the Congo Basin. As a result, the severity parameters are based primarily on consultations with IMs in the region and assessments of their reports. The current goal is to develop severity parameters that can be applied globally because such a system would help users compare information from different producer countries. As the OTP expands geographically, severity parameters at the regional or country level will be developed accordingly.