Friday

3rd Feb 2023

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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

Finland fights to keep control of forests away from EU

Despite Finland's EU presidency's repeated assurances it was in favour of promoting measures to end deforestation, the Finnish government has now announced that forestry policy should remain a national decision-making process.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us