EU agrees voluntary scheme to fight illegal logging

European Member State governments have agreed new measures to help timber-producing countries prevent illegal logging and protect threatened forests.

However, the agreement has already been criticised by Greenpeace for being merely a voluntary initiative.

The Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) deal will see EU governments adopt voluntary partnerships to support and promote governance reform in countries badly affected by illegal logging, as well as a regulation that sets up a legally-binding licensing scheme with partner countries to ensure that only legal timber from these countries is imported into he EU.

Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid said: “Only by working in close partnership with timber producing countries can we hope to have a real impact. The partnership agreements provide producing countries with the incentives and support required for them to fight illegal logging.”

The regulation means that partner countries exporting timber to the EU will have to produce a FLEGT licence to accompany it as proof of legal harvesting. This would then be verified by customs authorities.

The agreement was immediately criticised by Greenpeace for failing to include legally binding measures.

“Currently the EU is proposing voluntary measures to tackle illegal logging; this is like asking companies to voluntarily pay taxes,” said Sebastien Risso of Greenpeace. “Legality should be a precondition for doing business not a vain wish. Efforts to clamp down on illegal logging will fail unless there are proper laws in place to stop the European demand for cheap timber products from illegal and destructive sources.”

Greenpeace has repeatedly drawn attention to the loopholes in the scheme, including the fact that the partnership agreements are purely voluntary; that illegal timber could still be exported from partner countries via third countries (such as China) for processing and enter the EU as ‘laundered’ timber; that it applies only to a limited range of timber products; and that it will be built on existing licensing schemes which have been criticised for being “corrupt and ineffective.”

In November 2004 Greenpeace and the WWF drafted their own model legislation to stop the import of illegal timber which got the support of 180 NGOs and 70 EU businesses.

“Europe must take responsibility for what it allows on the market. Without effective measures to guarantee sustainable trade and consumption, the last ancient forests on earth will vanish,” added Risso.

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging robs governments in developing countries of an estimated ¬10 – 15 billion every year in lost revenue and damaged environment.

It is a prominent contributory factor in the rapid loss of global forests which adversely affects many of the world’s poorest people who depend on forest resources for a living. It also deprives governments of vital revenues to spend on poverty reduction programmes.

David Hopkins

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