Thursday, August 8, 2013

Could China lead the race to save tropical forests?

Mike Davis in a press release on the Global Witness website: The world’s tropical forests – the planet’s lungs – are in rapid decline. Over the past 60 years over 60% of them have disappeared, while two-thirds of those that remain are fragmented. Demolition is driven, in large part, by logging, much of it illegal, which in turn paves the way for clear-cutting for plantations and agriculture.

...What would make China’s leaders care about their impact on tropical forests? The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)’s new ‘China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform’ report demonstrates the role increased dialogue can play. It showcases an innovative collaboration involving African civil society representatives and Chinese officials, aimed at ensuring that China’s demand for African timber brings benefits to local populations.

The report notes that African timber currently accounts for around 4% of China’s forest product imports, worth around US$1.3 billion. This demand is rising, and China’s role in the timber trade, globally, is pivotal. A study published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) last year estimated that China imported at least 18.5 million cubic metres of illegal logs and sawn timber in 2011, worth US $3.7 billion, constituting 10% of China’s total wood products imports. Chinese timber industry representatives contest some of EIA’s figures, but it is clear that alternative interpretations of available trade data cannot explain away a very serious problem. 

...There are strong arguments, grounded in self-interest, for China’s leaders to take a fresh look at the world’s tropical forests and their role in keeping them standing. These start with the commercial case for overhauling the way the Chinese timber products industry operates. An immediate risk to continued business as usual is the US Lacey Act amendments of 2008 and the 2013 EU Timber Regulation which prohibit the import of illegal wood products. If enforced, these laws will eat into the profit margins of Chinese firms who cannot demonstrate that their timber is clean....

A photo from the 1920s of a forest in Sumatra, Wikimedia Commons, from the Tropenmuseum Collection

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