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20th Jan 2019

EU countries drag feet on illegal logging

European governments are failing to live up to an EU initiative aimed at tackling illegal logging across the world, according to a new survey by green NGO, the World Wildlife Foundation.

The new barometer assesses the efforts of EU governments to implement a European Commission action plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance & Trade (FLEGT), which encourages voluntary partnerships between EU countries and timber producing countries to reduce illegal logging.

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The UK and Austria are the top scorers among EU states doing the most to fight illegal logging, while Ireland and the Czech Republic share bottom place for their lack of awareness of the EU action plan, says the WWF.

The plan was adopted by the European Commission in May 2003 as part of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and gained final EU approval in January 2004.

Illegal logging is the harvesting of timber in contravention of a country's laws and together with the associated international trade in illegally-harvested wood products, it causes environmental damage, costs governments billions of dollars in lost revenue and is associated with corruption and organised crime.

It also undermines the competitiveness of legitimate forest operations in both exporting and importing countries.

Under the EU framework, the 27-member bloc's capitals have also committed to each set up a national action plan to eliminate the trade in illegal and unsustainable timber and wood products.

However, four years on, the WWF assessment shows that 19 of 27 EU governments - or 70 per cent - are failing to take any real action to implement it successfully.

"Very little progress has been made and this is down to individual governments who have dragged their heels on this issue," said Beatrix Richards from WWF in a statement on Monday (30 April).

"Illegal logging is a huge environmental, social and economic problem which often deprives local communities who rely on forests for their livelihoods. The EU, as a massive consumer of timber, has a key role to play in tackling the illegal element of the trade," she added, while calling for new legislation to be developed to outlaw the import of illegal timber and wood products into the EU.

Only eight EU nations have taken action

Eight member states have taken limited action and only Austria has implemented deadlines with the explicit aim of eliminating illegal logging and corruption from domestic wood production as well as timber and wood product imports.

The UK is the only government which says it can demonstrate - through a partnership with Indonesia – that it has reduced levels of illegal logging in a wood-producing country.

This partnership agreement pre-dates the EU illegal logging initiative, warns the WWF.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which all have high forest cover, appear to have given low priority to global deforestation issues while Ireland chose not to be evaluated. They have therefore achieved some of the lowest scores.

Other EU members with high forest cover such as Lithuania, Latvia and Bulgaria have all achieved much higher scores in the WWF assessment.

In the meantime in Denmark, a new tightening of a recommendation on buying wood for public institutions in the Nordic country has met criticism from a forest protection organisation, Nephentes, calling for a binding ban instead of a voluntary recommendation.

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