Fighting for timber’s sustainability goals26 June 2010
Green Party leader, former MEP and now MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas talks about her efforts to tackle illegal logging and deforestation – and her hopes for a brighter future for the timber trade
For many years in my role as Green Member of the European Parliament for south-east England, tackling illegal logging and deforestation was one of my primary concerns.
As the Parliament’s rapporteur on the “Proposal for a regulation laying down the obligations for operators who place timber and timber products on the market”, I sought a full EU ban on trading in illegally logged timber – as a way of addressing the mass degradation of the world’s forests and their indigenous inhabitants.
Shockingly, despite the economic significance of the international trade in timber and forest products, major timber consumer markets such as the EU have had no legal means to halt the import of illegally sourced products. I believe there is an increasing appetite within the timber industry for action to enable more sustainable practices – and now, more than ever, I am determined to see a ban come into force.
Concerns over the scale of deforestation across the globe are widely felt. Deforestation is occurring at a rate of approximately 13 million ha per year and is responsible for nearly 20% of global carbon emissions. For years the EU has preached against the illegal timber trade, a major driver of deforestation, yet it has unacceptably continued to provide one of the biggest markets for it. Between 20-40% of global industrial wood production is estimated to come from illegal sources, and up to 20% finds its way into the EU – with biodiversity and forest-dependent peoples paying the price.
The EU legislative process behind actively tackling this problem via greater regulation is a long and complex one. As I write this, the European Parliament is still in negotiations with the European Council in order to try to find a compromise agreement between their two very different positions.
The most important difference between the Parliament and the Council until now has been their respective positions on completely banning illegal timber from the EU market.
The Parliament position, as adopted by the Parliament's Environment Committee in May, includes both a ban on the placing or making available of illegally harvested timber on the EU market, as well as due diligence obligations for operators placing timber or timber products on the EU market for the first time and traceability requirements on subsequent commercial actors in the supply chain.
The Council’s common position, adopted in March, requires only those operators first placing timber on the EU market to implement a due diligence system, without a ban on the actual marketing of illegally harvested timber. The weakness of this position has been a source of great disappointment; several member states either voted against it or abstained on the basis that it did not even go as far as banning the first placing of illegal timber on the EU market.
Until now, the Commission and Council have claimed that a prohibition would be unworkable and difficult to implement. But this conclusion is outdated, as it fails to consider recent global developments. For example, the US amended the Lacey Act in May 2008 to include a prohibition on illegally harvested timber. There is no good reason why the EU cannot emulate this, and indeed go further.
Levelling the playing field
The possibility of prosecution for trading illegally harvested timber, and applying this to all operators in the supply chain, would encourage suppliers to favour sourcing from reliable, reputable placers on the market and, importantly, would level the playing field for those operators who are already taking care not to trade in illegal timber.
At the beginning of current negotiations, the Parliament stated that it would not agree to a second reading agreement (which would be the result of a successful round of these negotiations) if the Council did not move some way towards the Parliament's minimum demands of a prohibition and traceability requirements throughout all operators in the supply chain.
This pressure on the Council to come around to a more ambitious regulation has paid off, and the Council has indeed moved some way towards the Parliament's position in tentatively agreeing to a ban on operators who first place timber on the EU market. Considering the difficulty in persuading member states of the necessity of a ban, this is a very positive sign and I sincerely hope a compromise will be possible.
As a major consumer, the EU has an obligation to take effective action by ceasing to provide a market for illegally harvested timber and timber products. A ban on the trade of illegal timber in the EU, for which I have fought long and hard, would be a massive and significant step in the fight against the illegal timber trade and its devastating consequences. But we simply cannot afford to stop there. Ensuring genuine sustainability of timber, and a timber industry that will prosper sustainably, must be the long-term goal.