EU moves to combat illegal logging

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The Commission will propose new measures to tackle illegal logging in May amid fears that the current EU legislation is not effective enough, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced last week.

“We are going to have some proposals, I hope by the end of May, for the use of sustainable timber and products […] in the EU markets,” said Dimas last Wednesday (19 March), declaring that the measures put forward would be “the best and most workable”. 

The announcement came after the commissioner was presented with a report by Friends of the Earth which asserts that “half of the timber imported by the EU from high-risk areas [including Central Africa, the Amazon, Russia and Indonesia] has been logged illegally”. 

Responding to the report’s findings, spokesperson for Commissioner Dimas Barbara Helfferich said the Commission would “examine the kind of actions it can take under its mandate,” adding that something must be done to combat deforestation and illegal logging “as a matter of course”. 

Commissioner Dimas said the illegal timber issue is “very important because it contributes to deforestation, which is detrimental for both climate change and biodiversity”, issues which the EU executive is “determined to fight”. He said the EU executive had concluded voluntary agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cameroon and Ghana, adding that discussions were underway to conclude similar accords with other countries. 

The report also alleges that illegally logged timber was used in a number of EU-funded construction projects. Questioning the effectiveness of EU legislation, Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Netherlands claimed the Commission was “not even able to keep illegal and destructively logged timber out of its own construction projects”. 

But spokesperson for the EU executive Valérie Rampi stressed that the incident in question, relating to the Berlaymont building in Brussels, was an isolated case and that the company involved had been fined for not respecting the “very strict conditions that we have”. 

A voluntary licensing scheme for timber imports into the EU designed to combat illegal timber felling was first introduced in 2005, inviting timber exporting countries to produce export licences stating that their products were legally harvested (see EURACTIV 26/10/05). The measures were introduced plan for forest law enforcement, governance and trade (the so-called ‘FLEGT’ plan). 

Nevertheless, a public consultation published by the Commission in 2007 revealed that many stakeholders believe additional legislation is required to combat illegal logging more effectively, possibly including import bans. 

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently strongly criticised EU member states for their failure to curb illegal logging. A study published last year accused the majority of EU countries of failing to take “any real action” to implement the FLEGT plan (see EURACTIV 03/05/07). 

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