Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Opinion

How the EU can protect the world’s forest by tackling corruption

  • The EU is a main consumer of tropical timber and has a key responsibility to tackle corruption in source countries. (Photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha")

Amid the political turbulence that kicked off in Europe in 2016, an important event from last year risks being forgotten, the unprecedented global commitment to tackle corruption.

World leaders at the anti-corruption summit in London committed "to expose corruption wherever it is found, to pursue and punish those who perpetrate, facilitate or are complicit in it, to support the communities who have suffered from it, and to ensure it does not fester in our government institutions, businesses and communities”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • (Photo: European Forest Institute)

But as with any pledge, the proof is in the pudding.

Less than a year on the EU faces a key opportunity to tackle corruption in the logging industry, where it is most rampant, yet little-known and poorly understood, in some of the world’s most fragile and climate-critical ecosystems, rainforests.

The EU is uniquely placed as one of the main consumer markets for tropical timber and has a key responsibility to promote and pursue fundamental reforms to tackle corruption in source countries.

As the European Commission prepares its follow-up to the review of the EU’s international forest policies corruption should be top of their agenda, as it risks undermining progress on all other fronts.

The natural resource sector is notoriously corrupt – the world’s most corrupt industry according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Across continents developing countries’ natural wealth is siphoned off by corrupt politicians and the companies they do business with, robbing national treasuries of public funds that could lift countless out of poverty.

With forests it isn’t only the host countries who lose out – it’s all of us.

Weed out corruption to save rainforests

High levels of corruption in forest-rich countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo mean rainforests are being cut down far beyond legal limits, destroying one of our best defences in the fight against climate change at a time when carbon emissions are higher than ever.

This devastates biodiversity and on the lives of communities living in and around the forests.

Corruption taints the logging industry at such scale that a fresh approach that goes beyond technical elements is needed.

Across continents, logging companies bribe officials for access to forest that should by law be protected.

Police at forest checkpoints are paid to look the other way when timber trucks come and go far more frequently than they should.

Documents are tampered with at ports, suggesting timber is legal when it isn’t.

Much of this timber ends up in the EU despite the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) banning import of illegal wood.

But as one of the only consumer blocs with such laws the EU has the potential to play a key role in tackling the problem.

Member States, with support from the commission, must improve compliance and step up their enforcement.

Crucially, this should include measures that are specifically designed to guard timber supply chains against corruption.

Plant the seeds for future forests

While the EUTR is aimed at choking demand for illegal timber, the FLEGT (Forest, Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Action Plan represents the EU’s efforts to tackle the problem at source, including through bilateral agreements with timber-producing countries.

This plan does include elements that can help tackle corruption, but should be reoriented and strengthened to tackle the scale of the corruption challenge.

Independent forest monitors should be an essential part of all EU interventions on the forest sector.

This might include logging permits being reviewed and cancelled when they are allocated corruptly.

Law enforcement efforts should be strengthened and measures to tackle conflicts of interest and common minimum standards for accessing information on logging concessions put in place.

To ensure that they’re robust the EU’s efforts to improve the governance of tropical forests should be firmly embedded in broader anti-corruption strategies promoted through the EU’s development and foreign policy.

This should guarantee basic freedoms, such as freedom of expression and freedom of information and strengthen the rule of law in producer countries.

This should take place in close cooperation with other donors, in partnership with national governments, and be driven from the highest political level.

Without strengthening anti-corruption checks and balances along timber supply chains Europe will miss a major opportunity to contribute to global efforts to halt climate change at this crucial time.

That’s why Transparency International EU and Global Witness have teamed up to call on the commission to integrate anti-corruption principles in FLEGT in their latest report: Tackling corruption to protect the world’s forests. How the EU can rise to the challenge.

Jo Blackman is senior EU and international campaigner at Global Witness; Elena Gaita is policy officer-corporate transparency at Transparency International EU.

EU environment chief concerned by deforestation in Brazil

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas hinted on Thursday that biofuel development is contributing to deforestation in Brazil, even as the commission's own recently proposed climate package aims to see a massive increase in the use of the controversial fuels.

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 the international green NGO – the World Wildlife Foundation.

Illegal logging targeted by parliament

The European Parliament has approved stricter rules on timber sold in the European Union in order to take on illegal logging - one of the major causes of deforestation. Those that are found to be supplying illegal timber illegal timber will be slapped with fines

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

News in Brief

  1. Another referendum 'would take a year', Downing St says
  2. 82-year old Berlusconi to run in EU elections
  3. EU parliament votes to triple funds for democracy promotion
  4. EU parliament backs linking budget payments to rule of law
  5. Verhofstadt voted for Draghi amendment 'by mistake'
  6. 'Plan B' Brexit vote in UK parliament set for 29 January
  7. Verhofstadt wanted Draghi out of G30 group
  8. Putin heads to Serbia amid warnings against West

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  2. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  3. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  4. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  5. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  6. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  7. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  8. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us