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Cutting down on illegal logging in the EU

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 17:11

Deforestation and other land use changes are estimated to be responsible for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

By Satu Hassi, Member of the European Parliament

Following Caroline Lucas’ election to the UK Parliament this May, I have led the work in the European Parliament to prohibit illegally logged timber in the EU.  Fighting illegal logging is a key issue in protecting forests, which are crucial for the climate system of our planet. In June, an agreement on a new ambitious legislation was reached between the Parliament and EU Council of Ministers.

Throughout my six years in the European Parliament, and also before that as a national politician,  climate protection has been the policy area closest to my heart. This is why I was honoured when Caroline Lucas asked me to succeed her as the rapporteur for a new regulation to prohibit the trade of illegally logged timber in the EU.

Deforestation and other land use changes are estimated to be responsible for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is slightly more than all transport emissions combined. Concerns over the scale of deforestation across the globe are widely felt. Deforestation is occurring at a rate of approximately 13 million hectares per year, which corresponds to almost twice the land area of Ireland-or half of the forested area in my own country, Finland.

Several climate mitigation scenarios, including the work by Lord Nicholas Stern, show that reducing deforestation is one of the most cost-efficient ways to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

Part of the logging resulting in forest loss is legal, but a high proportion is illegal. Fighting illegal logging is thus one of the major ways to help saving forests of our planet.

In addition to causing carbon emissions, illegal logging contributes to the loss of biodiversity in some of the richest ecosystems in the world, and destroys livelihoods of local people, including indigenous communities.

Shockingly, though, major timber consumer markets such as the EU have had no legal means to halt the import of illegally sourced timber products. This means we have been preaching about the problem while failing to take serious measures in our own internal market. Between 20% and 40% of global industrial wood production is estimated to come from illegal sources, and up to 20% finds its way into the EU.

The European Parliament adopted a strong position on closing our market to illegally logged timber. I want to present my very warm thanks to Caroline Lucas for the work she did as the original rapporteur. She managed to get very wide political support for the Parliament position. This broad political backing in the Parliament was also crucial in getting the prohibition accepted in Council.

In addition to a complete prohibition on the placing or making available on the market of illegally harvested timber, the Parliament wanted 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. This combination of approaches aimed to encourage suppliers to favour sourcing from reliable, reputable placers on the market and, importantly, to level the playing field for those operators who are already taking care not to trade in illegal timber.

This view was much more ambitious than the original position of the EU Council. Originally the Council did not support the prohibition or traceability throughout the supply chain. However, the pressure from the Parliament  to come around to a more ambitious regulation has paid off, and the Council indeed moved a lot towards the Parliament’s position and agreed to a prohibition  on operators who first place timber on the EU market, and traceability further down the chain, including strong sanctions.

The agreement was finalised on the day of writing this article. The agreement, although weaker than the original position of the European Parliament, is a major breakthrough in putting our own house in order in the fight against illegal logging.

We are not alone. The Lacey Act bans selling illegally logged timber or timber products in the USA. There is news that similar legislation is also under consideration in Australia. It would really be a major change globally, if all these major markets were closed to illegally logged timber. This would help us not only in protecting the invaluable biodiversity and beauty of forests but also to conserve our planet in a state capable of supporting human societies into the future.