UK Government takes leading stance in tackling illegal logging worldwide

In a move which Greenpeace said would send shockwaves through the timber and construction industries, the UK Government has announced new ethical measures for the procurement of timber.

In a House of Commons announcement on 28 July, Environment Minister Michael Meacher announced a new showcase initiative to combat illegal logging, with an eye on persuading other G8 nations to swiftly follow suit. “Our aim is to give confidence to those obeying their country’s laws and managing their forests responsibly that that they will find a welcome market in the UK, and will not be undercut by unscrupulous and illegal competitors,” he stated.

Meacher announced that under the initiative every central Government Department and agency will have to:

  • actively seek to buy timber and timber products from sustainable and legal sources’, for example those identified under independent certification schemes such as that operated by the Forestry Stewardship Council;
  • report annually on its timber purchases, detailing: steps it is taking to pursue this objective, the quantity and types of its purchases, and what assurances it has received that the source of timber is sustainable and legal;
  • be monitored by an inter-departmental group reporting to the committee of ‘Green Ministers’, who will: assist Departments and agencies in working with timber suppliers and producers; give guidance on best purchasing practice; set progressive overall targets for government timber purchases from assured sustainable and legal sources; agree appropriate targets for individual Departments and agencies.

“If the other (G8) countries follow Tony Blair’s lead this will be the most important step yet taken to stem the tide of ancient forest destruction. Eighty percent of the world’s original ancient forests have already been destroyed or degraded so we must act now if we are to save the remaining threatened areas,” John Sauven, Campaigns Director at Greenpeace, later commented. “The announcement will send a powerful message to timber companies operating in areas like the Brazilian Amazon, where 80% of logging is illegal,” he added.

Announcing the new initiative Meacher said that the Government “have a responsibility to ensure their own house is in order”. It follows Tony Blair’s success at the recent G8 summit in Okinawa in getting leaders to “examine how best we can combat illegal logging, including export and procurement practices”.

Meacher also announced partial sponsorship for a high-level meeting in south-east Asia later in the year “to examine what can be done to strengthen enforcement of forestry laws in the region, and how donors can assist with this”.

The Minister did warn, however, that the measure will not ban the purchase of timber or timber products which cannot be shown to be sustainably and legally produced. This is because it could “penalise poorer countries and producers which have not been able to put in place such schemes”, and because “there is currently not enough timber that can be independently guaranteed to have come from sustainable and legal sources to meet all needs”.

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