The role of government and companies in deforestation

Last edited 7 November 2007 at 7:33pm

Greenpeace volunteers hang a banner from a crane opposite the Houses of Parliament in 2003

Illegal timber uncovered during construction of the new Home Office buildings in 2003 © Greenpeace/Cobbing

Despite repeated promises and claims of green policies, government and companies have so far failed to seriously address the problem of deforestation. Destructive and illegal logging is laying waste to huge areas of forest, making a massive contribution towards climate change and is having a devastating effect on forest-dwelling people and wildlife.

Poorly enforced policies

Our own government in particular should hang its head in shame: it claims that it is working to protect forests elsewhere in the world, but its efforts at preventing dodgy timber from entering the UK have been rather poor.

In 2000, the government introduced a policy requiring all departments to "actively seek" to buy timber from legal and well-managed sources. The policy has since been updated and now requires departments to buy legal timber to sustainable timber by 2009 as set out in the government's new Sustainability Procurement Action Plan. It also established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to advise government departments on procuring good timber for their construction projects.

But our investigations have shown that, since that policy was introduced, the government has repeatedly broken by its own rules and illegal timber has cropped up on a number of government construction sites.

One part of the problem is CPET itself. It recognises several certification schemes for proof of legality and sustainability, and some of these schemes use criteria and processes that are fundamentally flawed. Alongside a lack of monitoring and shoddy enforcement, it means illegal timber is still being used.

The need for legislation

Like our own government, the EU has made impressive noises about their efforts to tackle the illegal timber trade, but unfortunately it has not yet to produced proper legislation.

So far, the EU has developed the action plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) which, amongst other things, advocates the development of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber-producing countries. These agreements will commit the EU to helping these countries improve forest protection and management, and eventually, the only timber entering Europe from signatory countries will be legal timber.

However, this voluntary approach alone is not going to defeat the illegal timber trade since various loopholes mean it isn't going to be enough.

  • VPAs will only apply to countries that actually sign up so illegal timber could still legally enter the EU from non-signatory countries.
  • They will only cover direct trade with Europe and not timber products manufactured in a third-party country like China.
  • The current proposals only cover some products while others (for instance paper and furniture) are currently excluded.

FLEGT also recommends developing additional legislative options that could see only timber from well-managed sources entering Europe, but so far the European Commission has not done enough to make this a reality. Pressure is needed from all the member countries to make this happen: we're pushing for the full potential of FLEGT to be realised so the market for illegal timber in Europe is closed forever.

Corporate greed

Meanwhile, companies are making huge profits on the back of deforestation, as destructive and illegally logged timber is cheaper and undercuts responsible alternatives. It's not just the logging industry that poses a threat - agriculture also encourages deforestation. Crops like soya and palm oil which are in high demand on the international markets are often grown in areas of rainforest and tropical peatland that have been burnt and drained.

While an increasing number of companies are developing strong procurement policies to tackle these issues, others refuse to do so or are unaware of the impact their activities have.

For example, before our Amazon soya campaign, we asked many UK food companies where their soya supplies were coming from. No one could tell us and yet we were able to track soya being exported from the Amazon into the UK.

By challenging industry to develop good procurement policies and use their power to influence key players on the ground in forest producing areas, we can help to end the destruction.

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