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Selah Hennessy | London 28 July 2010
Good news has emerged this month for the world's forests. A new report from the London-based research group Chatham House says illegal logging is down by over 20 percent globally and by much more than that in some of the countries worst affected by the problem. The news comes only weeks after the European Parliament voted in new laws banning imports of illegally-harvested wood.
Forests are home to two-thirds of the world's land animals and some 60 million indigenous people depend on them for their livelihood. But in recent decades, the world's forests have been stripped of trees at a rapid pace. Illegal logging has played a big part.
However, it looks as if the tide may be turning. A new report says more than 17 million hectares of forest have been saved in recent years because of a major clampdown on illegal logging.
"Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia have all reduced illegal logging significantly - one of our indicators suggest that the illegal logging in each of those countries may have been reduced by anywhere from half to three-quarters," noted Sam Lawson, the report's lead author. "Illegal logging is down and that has important impacts in terms of trying to prevent deforestation."
Illegal logging is down in part because export countries are cracking down on the problem.
In Cameroon, independent monitoring of forest law enforcement has helped. Lawson says consumer countries are also having a big impact.
"The most important step is one they're only beginning to take now and that's to prohibit the import and sale of timber which was illegally sourced in the country of origin," added Lawson. "That's something the US did in 2008 and it's something the European Union is now in the process of doing."
The crackdown has meant a 20 percent downturn in illegal logging. And Lawson says that is real progress he says. But the starting point was so high that even now the problem remains widespread.
In Indonesia 80 percent of the logs harvested in 2001 were cut illegally. Today, the number is still 40 percent. Part of the problem is that a number of big importers, such as China and Japan, are not doing enough to stop the import and sale of illegal timber.
And Lawson says producing countries have only taken the first steps towards regulating the industry.
"Some of the easiest wins have already been won - you know, the low hanging fruit have been picked," Lawson explained. "So it's going to get increasingly difficult to make gains."
That's bad news for the environment, he says, because deforestation produces around 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
David Ritter from Greenpeace says ending illegal logging will slow down global warming.
"Illegal logging is such a big problem simply because of the size of it. We're talking about a vast number of trees that are taken out of forests every year, which are contributing to that one-fifth of global emissions that comes from deforestation and contributing to the loss of wildlife, contributing to the loss of people's livelihoods and contributing to the loss of revenue from governments," noted Ritter.
Even after a decade-long decline in illegal logging, Ritter says, there's still a long way to go.