Yesterday, the EU joined the U.S. and Australia in banning all timber that was illegally harvested abroad. The new regulation could have a major impact on where the EU sources its timber, and no where more so than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a new report by Greenpeace, the DRC’s current moratorium on industrial logging is being systematically circumvented making all timber from the country suspect.
“Logging companies, including multinationals, are routinely flouting Congolese law, with complete impunity,” said Irène Wabiwa, forests campaigner with Greenpeace Africa. “Many are involved in large-scale timber laundering and as a result, the government is denied tax revenues.”
Despite the moratorium on industrial logging set up in 2002, companies are using artisanal permits meant for smallscale logging, according to the new report, Cut It Out: Illegal Logging in the DRC. One of the most popular targets is the wengé tree (Millettia laurentii). Although listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the tree is often illegally cut and exported to the EU or China. But the new law across the 27 countries that make-up the EU means buyers must practice diligent caution.
Wengé log and stump in DRC forest, likely illegally logged. Photo: © Greenpeace.
“DRC timber is clearly extremely high risk,” the report reads. “The lack of independent systems to verify legality in DRC makes it difficult—if not impossible—for EU-based timber traders to comply with the new due diligence requirements.”
During recent investigative visits to DRC ports and forests in the Bandundu Province, Greenpeace found several companies maneuvering around the law. The group found that loggers were sharing the same artisanal permit, cutting significantly more than allowed for, and bribing locals for access to forests. According to the report much of the logging from the DRC to the EU ends up in France, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
“Any timber operators caught selling illegal timber on the EU market will now risk being prosecuted and facing sanctions. There is no other option for the industry but to comply,” explains Danielle Van Oijen, a forests campaigner with Greenpeace, who adds that so long as the EU enforces the law, it “can promote a change of behaviour in the global timber industry, including in the DRC and to help stop forest destruction.”
Greenpeace recommends that the DRC government stop issuing artisanal permits and cancel all existing illegal permits while tackling corruption and instituting transparency. The group would also like to see the DRC allow “communities to manage their forests responsibly for their own benefit and not for the benefit of industrial loggers.”
The global illegal logging trade has been estimated to be worth $30-$100 billion each year, accounting for 15-30 percent of all deforestation in the tropics. Tropical forest destruction threatens global biodiversity, local watersheds, and releases greenhouse gases. Local and indigenous people often lose access to the resources they depend on. Illegal logging has also been linked to other criminal trades, such as human trafficking, drugs, and weapons sales. Given this, many countries are taking a harder line on illegal logging, including the U.S. and Australia. Recently, Interpol arrested 197 people involved in the illegal logging trade across Central and South America in the first sting of its kind by the The International Criminal Police Organization.
(11/08/2012) In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL’s first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
(02/11/2013) In Belize, the uncontrolled and often illegal harvesting of rosewood has been, and still is, one of the major environmental issues in the country. In March of last year, the government established a moratorium on the export and extraction of rosewood, however illegal harvesting continued. On Friday 11 January, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development made the bold move of burning confiscated illegally cut rosewood flitches.
(02/07/2013) Forty-eight percent of the timber making its way from Mozambique’s forests to Chinese companies was harvested illegally, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which blames the problem on widespread corruption and poor governance. The illegal logging cost Mozambique, the world’s fourth least-developed country in the world according to the UN, $29 million in tax revenue, says the report.
(01/24/2013) Illegal loggers beware: trees will soon be calling—literally—for backup. The Brazilian government has begun fixing trees with a wireless device, known as Invisible Tracck, which will allow trees to contact authorities after being felled and moved.
(12/06/2012) According to Filipino officials, rampant illegal logging and mining were likely a part of the cause for the high casualty count from Category 5 Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), especially in the Compostela Valley where government officials had warned people to stop the illegal activities. So far, 370 people have been found dead on the island of Mindanao with another 400 missing. Waters rose so high even emergency shelters were inundated.
(11/29/2012) Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China’s economic engine, one of them has been the world’s forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China’s unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.
(11/21/2012) In another blow to illegal loggers, Australia has passed the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill, joining the U.S. in outlawing the importation of illegal logged timber from abroad. The new legislation makes it a criminal offense for Australian businesses to import timber from illegal operations. The Australian government estimates that $400 million worth of illegal timber products are sold in the country each year often as outdoor furniture and wood for decks