Good News on Illegal Logging but more REDD+ Faces

By David Ritter - 22 July 2010

Illegal logging is a global scourge, a classic environmental bad that is both ecologically destructive and economically corrosive.  Unlike many international environmental issues, illegal logging is also relatively politically simple to the extent that it has no defenders.  There are of course disputes over how best to crack down on illegal logging and who should bear the cost of regulation and enforcement, but it is highly unlikely that anyone will stand up and argue that illegal logging is a bad thing.  Accordingly, two items of positive news in the fight against illegal logging over the last fortnight have been met with near universal acclaim.

The first positive news is that the European Parliament finally passed long awaited illegal timber legislation, creating a regime of control and sanctions to prevent ‘bad wood’ from entering the continent.  All companies operating within the EU will henceforth be required to establish a traceability system for wood products. If they are the subject of serious efforts at enforcement, the new laws should result in an effective clean up of the sector within Europe.  The principal downside of the new conrols that there is no requirement on states to enforce uniform minimum penalties, so there is scope for significant inconsistency in how offenders are sanctioned among member states.  At worst, punishments may be insufficiently serious to constitute a deterrent.

The second good news story came in a new study published by Chatham House this week suggesting that there had been a significant fall in the overall quantum of illegal logging worldwide. The report, Illegal Logging and Related Trade: Indicators of the Global Response, asserts that the production of illegal timber has declined by more than one fifth globally since 2002.  In the two key rainforest nations, Indonesia and Brazil, the drop is thought to be by as much as three quarters.

Despite the absence of a global convention on deforestation it appears that the intermeshing web of subnational, national, regional, private and informal mechanisms is exercising at least some restraint on illegal timber production. Significantly, improvements were not sectorally uniform. Producer and consumer nations tend to be markedly more progressive, while intermediary processing nations frequently lag behind in implementing controls.  The report also noted that private-sector efforts to address the problem of illegal logging and associated trade had grown considerably across the board.

Nonetheless, despite the improvements, illegal timber production is still at very troubling levels: in 2009 alone more than 100 million cubic metres of illegal timber were harvested in the countries covered by the study.  Such quantities represent what continues to be a truly vast failure of governance at a global level, with implications for local livelihoods and government revenue and functionality, as well as biodiversity and climate change.   It is also important to remember that illegal logging is only one of the drivers of deforestation.  Others include cattle, soya, palm oil, biofuel and minerals extraction.  And unlike illegal timber, the production of licit commodities is far more politically contested.


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My previous blog highlighted the poor efforts of the new co-chairs of the Interim REDD+ Partnership to engage appropriately with civil society in the lead up to the meeting of the Partnership held last week in Brasilia.  The failue was met with a hail of protest from civil society.  Now, hot on the heels of that debacle, comes a further failure to engage with civil society in a meaningful fashion.

Under cover of an email sent around various civil society networks on 20 July 2010, representatives of the governments of Japan and Papua New Guinea enclosed a ‘draft paper on Modalities for Stakeholder Participation’.  The email invited feedback on the draft paper ‘by midnight EDT (New York) on Sunday, July 25th’.  Apparently, the email stated, ‘The Partners had originally targeted July 22nd as a deadline' but they 'believe this issue deserves more time and consideration’, hence the three extra days.  The ‘draft paper’ is itself incredibly short – a mere 110 words – written in nine short bullet points of staccato notation.  Some of the sentiments in the draft paper are positive but there are no guarantees.

At this point civil society may be inclined to judge the Interim REDD+ Partnership process by its deeds rather than its words.  Giving ‘stakeholders’ (by which is meant the whole of global civil society) no more than a few days to respond to anything is ludicrous and unrealistic: the fact that the issue happens to be 'Modalities for Stakeholder Participation' elevates the incident to an ironic farce. 

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