EU Illegal Logging Proposals Called Toothless

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 20, 2008 (ENS) – Globally, forests are disappearing at a rate of about 13 million hectares (50,190 square miles) a year. In view of this continuing loss, the European Commission Friday unveiled two initiatives aimed at forest protection.

The proposed regulation would oblige traders to seek guarantees that the timber and timber products they sell have been harvested according to the relevant laws of the country of origin.

Companies would not have to prove the legality of their products, but would only be required to minimize the risk of illegal timber in their supply chain.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says this regulation will send a strong message to operators wanting to access the EU market. He says it will also increase incentives for legal and sustainable management and use of forests, especially in developing countries that are interested in maintaining and enhancing their export of forest products to the EU.

Illegally felled logs are the object of a
Greenpeace protest in Papua New
Guinea. September 4, 2008. (Photo
courtesy Greenpeace)

“These precious resources also play a vital role in regulating climate change. Developed and developing nations must unite to protect the world’s remaining forests,” Dimas said.

“We must also send a firm message to timber suppliers that illegal timber or timber products will not be tolerated on the EU market,” he said.

Greenpeace said the regulation would produce a double standard, “Wood-based biofuels and biomass would need to be sustainable but not necessarily legal, whereas all other wood products would need to be legal but not necessarily sustainable,” the group said in a statement.

Around 19 percent of timber imports into the EU is estimated to come from illegal sources. Illegal logging and deforestation have serious environmental implications, the commission said, contributing to climate change and the loss of biodiversity, as well as threatening the livelihood of indigenous people.

Illegal logging also is a symptom of wider problems, including a lack of forest governance, and weak law enforcement.

Caroline Lucas, Green Member of the European Parliament for the South-East of England, said, “The long-awaited proposals are finally here after months of industry lobbying and internal Commission wrangling, but as so far presented, they look toothless and inadequate to stop the influx of illegally logged timber into the EU.”

“The proposal to tackle the illegal timber trade is far weaker than the Greens would have liked,” Lucas said. “It will be a huge challenge to improve it and pass legislation before the European elections next year.”

Friends of the Earth Europe also described the proposals as “toothless” and unlikely to have any major impact on reducing deforestation, in part because they do not make trade in illegally harvested wood a criminal offense.

Danielle van Oijen, timber trade spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe said, “The legislative proposal to tackle the illegal timber trade is largely toothless and will do little to stem the rampant destruction of the world’s remaining natural forests. It is now down to the European Parliament and Council to give the proposal teeth.”

The advocacy group says some of the big causes of deforestation are not addressed in the proposals. For example, the European Commission acknowledges that Europe’s mass consumption of paper, soy and palm oil products increases deforestation yet omits any measures to deal with this.

Deforestation is responsible for almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and has become a key issue in the international negotiations currently under way on a new UN climate change agreement for the post-2012 period.

The commission proposes to pursue the objective of halting global forest cover loss by 2030 at the latest and reducing gross tropical deforestation by at least 50 percent by 2020.

Dimas said the commission’s proposals should be viewed in the context of the international negotiations on the post-2012 climate change agreement that will serve as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

They will form part of the EU’s position at the UN climate conference in Poznan, Poland in December and in the negotiations on a new climate agreement due to be concluded in December 2009 in Copenhagen.

“Forests are home to half of all known species,” said Dimas. “When forests disappear, so does a vast array of plants and species, with disastrous and irreversible consequences.”

Illegal loggers clear a swamp forest for a
palm oil plantation in Central Kalimantan,
Borneo, Indonesia. (Photo by Alain
Compost courtesy WWF-Canon)

As climate change negotiations progress, the commission proposes create a Global Forest Carbon Mechanism through which developing countries would be rewarded for emissions reductions achieved by taking action to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.

The communication indicates that at the EU level funding is required from 2013 to 2020 to fight deforestation. The total amount of funding will depend on the level of mitigation actions undertaken by developing countries.

The commission suggests that a major part of this funding could come from proceeds of allowances auctioned in the EU Emissions Trading System. If five percent of auctioning revenue were made available to the Global Forest Carbon Mechanism, this would raise €1.5 to 2.5 billion in 2020.

The commission proposes a pilot phase that could test the inclusion of credits for avoided deforestation in the carbon markets, allowing governments to make use of these credits to help achieve their post-2012 emission reductions.

Subject to the review of this initial phase, allowing companies to use credits for avoided deforestation to offset part of their emissions could be considered after 2020.

Owen Espley, forests campaigner for Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said, “The commission is right not to introduce forest credits into the Emissions Trading Scheme. Forest carbon credits would create a land grab for forests and would give industry an excuse for failing to reduce their climate-changing emissions.”

“We cannot afford to choose between protecting forests and reducing emissions,” he said, “we urgently need to do both.”

MEP Lucas said, “On the plus side, at least the commission’s positioning on the use of forest or sink credits in emissions trading shows more clarity of thought. Its Communication on Deforestation recognizes that while methods must be found to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, sink credits risk flooding the carbon market and give rise to serious concerns over their permanence, verification, quantification and liability.”

The European Commission launched the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, or FLEGT, Action Plan in 2003, but this did little to curb deforestation and illegal logging.

FLEGT included support for improved governance and capacity building in timber producing countries and encouragement to the private sector to exclude illegal timber from their supply chains and to avoid investment in activities that make it easy for illegal logging to take place.

The core of FLEGT was voluntary partnership agreements with timber-producing countries that wish to eliminate illegal timber from their trade with the EU.

Currently there is no law to prevent illegally logged wood products from being imported into the European Union.

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