EU tackles illegal logging, but evironmentalists want more
The EU’s Environment Commissioner has announced two new initiatives to combat illegal logging and deforestation, but environmental groups quickly slammed the measures for not going far enough to address the problems.
Nearly one fifth of the timber that enters the European market comes from illegal sources, according to the European Commission (EC). Hotspots of the illicit activity include Central Africa, Brazil and Indonesia, although illegal logging has also been documented in EU countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. Globally, the practice deprives timber-producing countries of between US$ 13 billion and US$ 20 billion each year in lost taxes and stumpage fees – set amounts charged to companies that harvest timber on public land.
Total loss of forest cover, from both legal and illegal activities, causes close to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the EC. Roughly 13 million hectares of forest – an area nearly the size of Greece – are lost each year around the globe.
But the EU has said it aims to cut tropical deforestation in half by 2020, and to completely stop the loss of global forest cover by 2030.
The new measures – announced on 17 October by EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas – include a potential new EU law on forests and a policy paper on deforestation. The rules would oblige European timber traders to ‘seek sufficient guarantees’ that the products they sell have been harvested in line with the domestic laws of the country from which the timber originated. The legislation would not require traders to establish the legality of their timber beyond a reasonable doubt, only “to their best ability.”
The legislation would also increase incentives for legal and sustainable forest management, especially in developing countries looking to gain greater access to the large European market.
Dimas further called for the creation of a Global Forest Carbon Mechanism that would reward developing countries for reducing deforestation within their borders. The commissioner also urged the EU to provide ‘an appropriate level of funding’ to fight global loss of forest cover.
“Forests are home to half of all known species. When forests disappear, so does a vast array of plants and species, with disastrous and irreversible consequences,” Dimas said.
“Developed and developing nations must unite to protect the world’s remaining forests. 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.
But environmental NGOs said that the two proposals do not go far enough.
“By failing to ban illegal timber outright and not tackling major causes of deforestation like biofuels, the EU is making a mockery of its own attempts to combat climate change,” Owen Espley of Friends of Earth said on Friday. The group called on the EU to take measures to reduce consumer demand for products like biofuels and soy for animal feed, the production of which often leads to forest clearing in tropical regions.
Greenpeace likewise said on Friday that the EU proposal “falls far short of the resolute response needed to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.” Instead of simply encouraging timber traders to seek out verifications of legality for the goods they buy and sell, the EU “should ensure that operators are required by law to provide reliable proof of the legality of their products,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
But the EU claimed that verifying the legality of all timber imports would be a “difficult if not, in many cases, impossible task,” and that requiring all of the bloc’s 27 member states to enact legislation on the matter might stretch the limits of the Commission’s powers.
“Europe is generally reluctant to act beyond its jurisdiction or to pass judgement on other countries’ legal frameworks unless there is an immediate threat to the well-being of its population, such as in the case of food safety or terrorism,” the Commission said.
Greenpeace also faulted the EU for focussing solely on legality and failing to call for sustainability standards in the timber trade. Such an omission, the campaigners argue, means that the legislation would be blind to the rights of indigenous people and would ignore regional and international environmental laws.
But the Commission held that legality is in many cases an important step towards sustainability, and that omitting sustainability standards avoids “placing an unnecessary burden on the operators and on enforcement authorities.”
In other efforts to combat illegal logging, the EU is negotiating a series of forest trade deals called Voluntary Partnership Agreements, or VPAs, with several forested developing countries.
Those pacts would require the EU’s partner countries to establish transparent licensing schemes for EU-bound timber exports that certify that all of the exported goods have been legally harvested. More broadly, the deals are intended to promote better enforcement of forest law and greater involvement of civil society and the private sector.
But only one such agreement - with Ghana - has been finalised since the VPA initiative was launched in 2003 (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 19 September 2008, http://ictsd.net/i/news/biores/29586/). Negotiations are ongoing with Cameroon, Indonesia, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), and Malaysia. A number of other timber-producing nations have also reportedly expressed interest in concluding a VPA with the EU.
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