“This is a big victory for rainforest protection,” says Matthew Owen, Director of UK charity Cool Earth, about the new legislation to halt illegally logged timber imports was passed by the European Parliament on July 7th by a massive 644 to 25 vote. “Now we just have to persuade the USA to follow suit,” he adds.
For decades, Europe’s high demand for timber has been feeding illegal logging and ravaging biodiversity in tropical forest countries, but, now, after years of campaigning by groups like Greenpeace, this seems likely to stop. While still needing approval by the European Council, this body has already expressed support for the new legislation which is expected to take effect from 2012.
The legislation will oblige importers of timber to prove they have brought to bear “adequate due diligence” to ensure the wood is from legal sources.
“This will clearly benefit both forest dwelling communities and rainforest biodiversity,” claims Matthew Owen. “The specific details of an EU timber tracing scheme are yet to be defined, but if properly conceived their implementation will mean that Europe based organisations like ours can work to protect tropical rainforests without a sense of hypocrisy generated by not addressing our own demand for illegal timber.”
“As well as the environmental damage associated with illegal logging there are also a range of social issues. Traditional forest communities are ripped off by logging gangs who pay very little in return for removing the most valuable trees,” Owen continues.
“It was precisely this scenario when we started collaborating with indigenous Asháninka communities in the Peruvian Amazon; with our help, illegal logging was stopped and legal loggers turned away,” adds Owen.
The WWF calculate that up to 20% of Europe’s timber imports are from illegal sources and that the trade is worth around £700 million annually. With many developing countries reporting corruption and violence associated with illegal logging, feeding this kind of cash into organised crime has had a big negative impact. In Peru, for instance, there is strong evidence linking illegal logging to the laundering of drug money and the transporting of illegal logs as camouflage for semi-processed cocaine.