Saturday, 18 October 2008

EU Move Against Illegal Timber 'Toothless'

EU Move Against Illegal Timber 'Toothless'

By David CroninBRUSSELS, Oct 17 (IPS) -

A European Union blueprint for curbing import of illegal wood has been branded "toothless" by green activists.Citing estimates that 19 percent of timber brought into the EU comes from trees that have been felled illegally, the European Commission recommended Oct. 17 that all traders in forestry products should seek guarantees that their wood comes from bona fide sources.

Officials are touting the plan as a response to deforestation, one of the single largest contributors to climate change. The destruction of about 13 million hectares of forests per year accounts for about one-fifth of the world's total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). In a related proposal, the Commission urges that about 5 percent of the revenues generated from the EU's emissions trading system (ETS), under which permits to release CO2 are bought and sold, should be used to fight deforestation.

A study is also to be undertaken into whether European countries may formally count investments in forest preservation programmes as part of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas reduction efforts. "This is the first time any region in the world has adopted such a comprehensive approach to this very important problem, this destructive and unsustainable activity," claimed Stavros Dimas, Europe's environment commissioner.

He stated, though, that it will be a matter for the national authorities in EU countries to decide what penalties should be imposed on companies that continue to sell illegally logged wood.

"In Britain, there are some voices saying to impose prison sentences," he said. "We cannot do that. Instead of advising us to impose prison penalties, an advisor to the British government could advise his government to do so." Friends of the Earth called on the European Parliament and EU governments to strengthen the new plan.

"The legislative proposal to tackle the illegal timber trade is largely toothless and will do little to stem the rampant destruction of the world's remaining natural forests," said Danielle van Oijen, a campaigner with the organisation.

Greenpeace said the new plan is deficient as it would not explicitly criminalise the placing of illegal wood on the market. It also does not recommend any specific mechanism for checking that certification schemes run by timber firms on a voluntary basis are sufficiently robust.

"The Commission's proposal for this law will not help European consumers know if the flat-pack wardrobe they bought last Saturday is the result of forest crime," said Sebastien Risso from the Brussels office of Greenpeace.

Dimas also drew attention to the rich variety of flora and fauna to be found in the Amazon Basin and other densely forested parts of the globe. Each 10 kilometres square of tropical rainforest contains a higher number of different species than the whole of the EU's mainland, he said.

Yet whereas the Commission has calculated that 20 billion euros (27 billion dollars) is needed each year to halve the current rate of deforestation by 2020, only about one-tenth of that sum would be collected through the ETS, under its plans.

"Deforestation and degradation is costing the world's economy 2 trillion to 5 trillion dollars per year -- more than Wall Street has lost since the start of the current financial crisis," said Risso. "Today's Commission proposals cannot bail us out of global warming and species extinction."

Global Witness, an organisation that monitors the exploitation of natural resources, noted that the Brazilian government is against relying on a market-based scheme such as the ETS to fight deforestation. Each year Brazil loses 3 million hectares of forest, one-quarter of all lost throughout the world.

"Entrusting the future of the planet to the markets, in the light of the recent financial turmoil, veers between irresponsible and mad," said Global Witness spokesman Patrick Alley. "Carbon trading and forest protection are not compatible. Government funding is the most appropriate source of finance to pay for combating deforestation."

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) argued it is positive that the Commission has "finally recognised" the need for legislation to address the problem of illegal logging. But its forest specialist Anke Schulmeister complained that the proposal "does not have the teeth needed to seriously clamp down on this trade."

Meanwhile, Dimas has taken issue with estimates by the Italian government that EU efforts to tackle climate change would cost that country as much as 181 billion euros. "I wonder why there is all this fuss in Italy," he said, adding that rather than damaging the Italian economy, reducing its carbon dioxide emissions should bring tangible benefits.

Dimas argued that there is a "tremendous possibility" for Italy to create "green jobs" by investing in renewable energy and to become more self-sufficient by reducing its dependence on imported oil. (END/2008)