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FAO-EU FLEGT Programme

Damage by illegal logging highlighted at environmental crime conference

24/05/2017

Illegal logging most certainly degrades forest resources and deprives governments of tax revenue that should be used for the benefit of citizens, but, in some extreme cases, it also funds armed conflicts, Robert Simpson, Manager of the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme, told the 2nd International Conference on Environment hosted by the Italian national police force the Carabinieri in Rome last week.

Simpson was addressing an audience of Italian military police officers and students at a session devoted to the issue of deforestation and illegal logging. The Carabinieri has been expanded to include the Corpo Forestale, previously a separate police force responsible for enforcing environmental laws.

The panel moderator, Andrey Kushlin, FAO’s Deputy Director of Forestry Policy and Resources Division, introduced the magnitude of the illegal logging problem. He told the audience that one-third of wood and wood products traded globally come from illegal logging and that this is not only environmentally devastating but costly for governments that miss out on tax revenues, all of which contributes to the erosion of the rule of law.

Simpson reminded the audience of the importance of forests for biodiversity (two-thirds of terrestrial living species depend on forests), for culture (more than 300 million indigenous people live in forested areas), for economies (with a global market value for wood and wood products of US $300 billion per year), and, simply, for life on Earth.

“An area approximately the size of 800 football fields will have been deforested by the end of my presentation,” he said, pointing out that the same was true for the presentations that followed during the session.

Jussi Viitanen, head of the FLEGT and REDD Unit at the European Forest Institute, presented the need to use law, governance and trade to fight illegal logging. “If there is a demand for illegal wood, there will be people who will sell it.” He outlined the technical processes for Europe to create a demand for, and ensure a supply of, legal wood.

Building on this technical presentation, Jade Saunders of Forest Trends noted that Italy is still importing logs from countries that are banned from exporting them and told the audience of police that it is their responsibility to help enforce the European Union Timber Regulation and to protect consumers from buying illegal wood. Reducing this market will necessarily reduce illegal logging, she explained.

“None of this is to sanction countries, but to make the companies importing wood responsible,” said Saunders.

Deborah Harris from the United States Department of Justice presented a case study of a successful prosecution under the U.S. Lacey Act, which prohibits imports of illegal timber. A U.S. company was fined for illegally importing hardwood flooring manufactured in China from timber illegally logged in far east Russia. The wood came from an old-growth forest where illegal logging was pushing Siberian tigers and Amur leopards to the edge of extinction.

Kushlin told the audience that the publicity around the case has helped to ensure greater protections for the forest and the wildlife that depend on it in his native Russia.

Earlier in the day, on a panel discussing climate change and environmental challenges, René Castro Salazar, Assistant Director-General of FAO’s Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, warned of “total collapse” if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Photo: FAO/Marc Vandenhaute