Destructive and illegal logging

Illegal logging

A traditional landowner stands amid the devastation of a deforested area in Papua New Guinea

With 80 per cent of the world’s ancient forests already lost or seriously degraded, it’s vital we look after what remains to maintain biodiversity, protect the way of life of local communities, and guard against climate change. But industrial logging, which is often either destructive, illegal or both, has these last areas of ancient forest under siege. So fast is the rate that an area the size of a football pitch is lost every two seconds.

What is illegal logging?

At its most basic, illegal logging occurs when trees are cut, transported, brought or sold in violation of national laws. Laws can also be broken anywhere along the supply chain, such as taking more trees than is permitted and evading taxes. Not only is this having a devastating effect on the world’s forests, but revenue from such logging is used to fund civil wars, organised crime and brutal dictatorships.

Illegal logging is rampant and the estimates are depressing: up to 80 per cent of logging in Indonesia and the Brazilian Amazon is thought to be illegal. With such colossal amounts of timber involved, it undermines the trade in legal and well-managed timber by undercutting the price and making it less competitive.

In addition, the World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs timber producing countries between US$10-15 billion per year in lost revenue from taxes and export duties, accounting for over a tenth of the total timber trade world-wide. It’s money that could be used to improve living standards in countries that are often very poor, providing schools and health care for millions of people.

But logging doesn’t have to be illegal to damage ancient forests. Legal practices can be equally destructive, such as clear-cutting vast swathes of forest in places like Canada and Russia.

Legal or illegal, destructive logging often leads to social conflict, bringing indigenous and local communities up against the logging companies. Their livelihoods and survival depend on the forest, and once destroyed it can never be replaced.

A complete lack of legislation

Of course, none of this would be happening if there wasn’t a market for the timber – the UK is the fourth largest economy in the world so our own demand for timber is a big driver of forest destruction. It’s astonishing that there are no laws in either the UK or the EU to ban imports of illegal and destructively logged timber. Coupled with weak governance and corruption in timber-producing countries, this lack of legislation allows unscrupulous logging companies and timber traders worldwide to exploit ancient forests.

The lax attitude of governments towards destructive and illegal logging also has dire implications for climate change. With up to 25 per cent of global man-made emissions coming from deforestation, their reluctance to ensure only legal and well-managed timber is in EU only encourages rampant deforestation.

But the destruction can be stopped, and introducing legislation is one piece of the puzzle. But you can also help. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) runs a certification system that already provides a benchmark for environmentally responsible and social just timber products, certifying all manner of products from timber and plywood to garden furniture and books. Checking for the FSC’s ‘tree tick’ logo on any wood or paper you buy will help protect the remaining ancient forests. And if it’s recycled, even better.