News: European Parliament gets tough on illegal logging

EU suppliers of timber from illegal sources must pay fines that reflect the real environmental and economic damage done by illegal logging, said Environment Committee MEPs on Tuesday. The committee amended draft EU legislation to stiffen penalties and ensure that all in the supply chain play their part in ensuring that timber sold in the EU comes from legal sources. The proposal is to be put to a plenary vote in July.

Tougher penalties

Financial penalties, to be set by EU Member States, must reflect the degree of environmental and economic damage caused by illegally harvesting timber, said the committee, stressing that these penalties must be proportional to the value of the timber products obtained and the environmental damage caused.

Shared responsibility

MEPs called for a clear ban on placing (or making available) illegally harvested timber or timber products on the market. Operators placing timber on the market for the first time should comply with a rigorous “due diligence” system, since they have a particular responsibility for products entering the EU market. To improve timber traceability, MEPs ask that all suppliers provide basic information to identify the operator who has supplied the timber and to whom it has been supplied.

“I am delighted that the Environment Committee has agreed fundamental improvements to the draft regulation on illegally harvested timber. Strong support came from across the political spectrum on key issues including adoption of an overriding prohibition on placing or making available illegally harvested timber on the EU market, extension of traceability requirements throughout the supply chain, and setting of minimum standards for penalties, including criminal sanctions”, said Caroline Lucas (Greens/EFA, UK), whose legislative report was approved with 49 votes in favour, 6 against, 2 abstentions.

Situation Overview

Between 20%-40% of the world’s wood production comes from illegally logged tropical forests. In April last year the European Parliament voted to ban trade in illegally logged timber following the example of the US. Now the text is back at Parliament and Environment Committee MEPs are not satisfied with what the EU governments in the Council have made of it – shying away from a real ban. Last week the Environment Committee voted again.

Parliament’s rapporteur is outgoing (due to her election to Westminster) British Green MEP Caroline Lucas. Speaking after the vote she said “strong support came from across the political spectrum on key issues including adoption of an overriding prohibition on placing or making available illegally harvested timber on the EU market, extension of traceability requirements throughout the supply chain, and setting of minimum standards for penalties, including criminal sanctions”.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that a very large proportion of tropical wood comes from natural forests – not from plantations or sustainably managed forests – which are lost forever and whose protection is crucial in the fight against global warming.

Worse, in many regions at least just as much timber is logged illegally as legally, and for the customer it is almost impossible to make an ethical choice.

Illegal logging is a major driver of deforestation, with the volume of industrial wood from illegal sources estimated at 350 to 650 million m3 per year, representing 20%-40% of global industrial wood production.

Illegal logging depresses timber prices, strips natural resources and tax revenues, and increases poverty of forest-dependent people.

Tropical timber is popular for its look, price and qualities – most sorts having an elegant look, being very hard and often resistant to weather conditions. Some examples are Teak bathroom or garden furniture, mahogany cupboards and meranti window frames. A variety of tropical timber is used in construction for wooden floors or bridges. An alternative is European oak has similar qualities but is usually more expensive.

While some labels ensuring the origin from legal and responsible forestry exist, the one issued by the Forest Stewardship Council being probably the most well known,  it remains difficult to ensure that the furniture you buy was not made from illegally logged trees, contributing to the destruction of vital rain forests. Especially as only a small proportion of wood on the market is labelled.

Kick-off to negotiations with the Council

The Council position officially adopted in March was considerably weaker than Parliament’s 1st reading position. It did not contain a prohibition on trading illegally harvested timber and timber products, and it did not specify penalties, or require criminal sanctions for serious infringements; the regime for the recognition of monitoring organisations was different to what Parliament had asked for as well.

On 4 May 2010 the Environment Committee adopted a draft recommendation for a second reading, reinstating most of Parliament’s first reading amendments which the Council had not taken on board.

The EP and Council have now started negotiations on a possible compromise between the positions of the two legislators before the Parliament’s plenary vote scheduled for July.

Related legislative information may be found in this procedure file.

Citation:  European Parliament Press Release REF. : 20100507STO74261, 11 May 2010

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