Victory! After 10 years of campaigning, EU votes to ban illegal timber

Posted by jamie — 7 July 2010 at 5:18pm - Comments

Exposing illegal timber used in the construction of the new Home Office building in 2003 © Greenpeace/Cobbing

It's been a long time coming but finally - finally! - the European parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a law banning illegal timber from entering the European Union. Like many other organisations, Greenpeace has been campaigning on this for years - 10 long ones, in our case - so to see this become a reality is an amazing tribute to the thousands of people who emailed, donated or took direct action.

After two years of difficult negotiations, a compromise has been reached which, while it isn't everything we might have hoped for, is still going to be a massive shot in the arm for forest conservation. When it comes into force, the law will ban illegal timber from Europe. The EU is a huge market for timber, the world's largest in fact, so this law will have a significant impact on the global timber trade.

All companies operating within the EU will be required to establish a traceability system for wood products, and offenders could be fined. If properly enforced, hopefully it will be the catalyst for systemic changes in an industry where illegal logging is all too common. It will also strengthen the EU's Forest Law, Governance and Trade programme (FLEGT), a series of agreements between the EU and forest countries to try and stem the flow of illegal timber into Europe.

What's missing are regulations for printed materials (they're exempt for five years), and there are no minimum penalties enforced across the EU, so treatment of offenders could differ radically from state to state. It still has to approved by another council, hopefully in September, after which it will be another two years before it comes into force. Things don't move quickly in Brussels.

In the 10 years since we launched our campaign, over 40m hectares of forest have been lost (Germany + Denmark = 40m hectares, in case you're wondering). The challenge for the next ten years is to end deforestation all together, illegal or otherwise, so that by 2020 the net number of trees lost is zero. Even though this vote is historic, we still need to make sure the legislation is properly enforced.

But for now, let's just celebrate and remember how we got here:

2000: Greenpeace uncovered illegal logging in Russia's far east, occupied a Russian timber ship, held a 65 hour protest against imports of criminal timber into Spain, launched dawn raid on Germany's largest timber port, forced a Canadian timber ship to turn around and began three years of work to uncover some of the main European timber traders paying for 'conflict timber' from Liberia, which fuelled the deadly civil war in that country. Also, the G8 adopted our demand to fight illegal logging by tackling export practices and procurement policies.

2002: We occupied the Cabinet Office after finding wood from companies logging illegally in Cameroon and protested against the G8 illegal timber trade. We also occupied a ship carrying wood also from Cameroon.

2003: We occupied the new Home Office headquarters after finding plywood from Indonesia's last rainforests. The UN Security Council imposed a ban on exports of conflict timber from Liberia, and the EU recognised that it needed to take effective action to tackle illegal logging which finally led to today's vote.

2004: We exposed the Danzer Group's involvement in bribery and illegal logging, and revealed that a refurbishment of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, funded by the National Lottery, was using illegal timber from south east Asia.

2005: The second of our garden furniture guides persuades Wyevale to stop stocking illegal timber. The offices of the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs were blocked by over a tonne of illegal plywood.

2006: We revealed Finland's illegal timber trade with Russia, occupies the roof of Admiralty Arch in London, uncovered illegal timber being used in the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament and exposed uncertified plywood being used to renovate an official EU building.

2007: Our investigations showed that timber traders in Europe were still importing plywood from companies known to be involved in the illegal timber trade in Indonesia, and launched a report exposing international logging companies causing havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

2008: We protested during a presidential meeting in Brazil, intercepted a cargo ship suspected of transporting illegal timber to France, launched the Forest Love video, and released a guide for the construction industry on sustainable plywood. More than 130,000 supporters wrote to European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, asking him to show a little love to the forests of the planet. The US adopted landmark legislation to curb illegal wood imports.

2009: We lodged a complaint before the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Nantes against one of the world's leading international timber and wood products wholesalers.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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