Friday, 17 October 2008

Illegal timber in British garden furniture, says Gordon Brown advisor

Illegal timber in British garden furniture, says Gordon Brown advisor

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Daily Telegraph

Illegal timber from endangered forests is ending up in British garden furniture and new laws to tackle the problem are inadequate, Gordon Brown's forestry advisor has warned.

· Timber imports to be licensed to combat illegal logging
· Garden furniture for UK market 'from illegally logged rainforest', says report
· Britain 'imports more illegal timber than any EU country'

Europe is the largest market for timber in the world but up to a fifth of the wood - much of which ends up in Britain as garden furniture or hardwood flooring - is illegally felled from protected rainforests.

Law makers in Europe have been working on legislation to clampdown on the problem for five years and the European Commission will put forward legislation tomorrow.

But Barry Gardiner, the prime minister's special envoy on forestry, has said the law is unlikely to stop the problem. He said it will be easy for importers to buy false certification to make it appear that illegally felled timber is legal.

"Importers will be able to import millions of tonnes of illegal timber into this country because they can get away with it by ticking the right boxes - that is wrong," he said.

His concerns come as forestry moves up the agenda in national and international polictics because of they key role rainforests play in slowing climate change. It has been estimated that deforestation accounts for around a fifth of annual carbon emissions.

Earlier in the week the Eliasch Review, commissioned by Mr Brown, advised paying developing countries to protect the rainforests and any global agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto protocol will include forestry.

Europe is putting its own house in order by introducing measures to stop illegal timber being imported into Europe. The proposed regulation will oblige traders to identify the country of origin of their timber, and ensure that any they sell has been harvested according to the relevant laws of that country.

An EU spokesman said: "The proposal will increase the protection and preservation of forests, especially in developing countries that export forest products to the EU."

Mr Gardiner is calling on Europe to introduce a law whereby importers will be subject to random checks and if they cannot prove timber is sourced sustainably they will be punished by a £100,000 fine or five years in jail.
The bulk of illegal timber ends up in furniture or flooring in Europe or the US. It is estimated that the British market alone is fuelling the destruction of 1.4 million acres of forest a year.

Mr Gardiner said laws are desperately needed to control the trade but the new legislation is unlikely to be on the statute books before May next year when there is a European election and the whole process will have to start again.

He said: "The European Commission has failed to seize the initiative and come up with a decent set of regulations to put in place. The EC knows what the problem is - deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of carbon emissions every year. Unless we grapple this fundamental problem we will never grapple the problem of climate change."

Environmental groups were also concerned about the legislation. Mariana Paoli, forestry campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "There are fears it might be too weak to stop forest crime. We do believe there is a lot of room of improvement and will continue to fight for stronger laws."