Britons want to save the rainforests

85% of the British public want to see more done to prevent illegal timber, but it's the government that must tighten regulations

6th December 2018

The equivalent of 40 football fields of trees were felled every minute last year, according to a new report from the University of Maryland and the Global Forest Watch. This makes 2017 the second-worst year on record of tropical tree cover loss.

International forestry issues are consequently coming to the forefront of sustainability discussions among several different environmental groups, such as Global Witness and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This concern about the future of the rainforests seems to be shared with the British public.

A total of 85% of British adults would support UK government action on protecting rainforests, according to new figures released by Global Witness, an international NGO that works to expose corruption and environmental abuse, and the People’s Postcode Lottery.

One of the main causes of this excessive deforestation is illegal and unsustainable logging practices.

Illegal logging — when companies cut down trees without a permit or out of bounds — has severe impacts on the environment. It is often executed on an industrial scale with huge swathes of forests being felled. This deforestation destroys the habitat of a wide range of important flora and fauna.

It is well known that the rainforests are the lungs of the planet, producing vital oxygen that enables plants, animals and man to thrive. Illegal logging causes irreparable damage to these climate-critical forests, especially in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Papua New Guinea.

The damaging impact of illegal logging, however, is not limited to the environment. It is also a detriment to the global economy.

China’s timber trade is infamous for being involved with illegal logging practices.

Illegal logging causes a significant loss of revenue for legal logging practices, with The World Bank estimating the global annual market value of losses from the illegal cutting of forests to be over $10 billion. 

The British public is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and economic effects of illegal logging, and seems keen for the government to take greater measures to combat it. The Global Witness findings show that 82% of British adults would support more regulation in the UK over companies selling wood products to ensure that they are logged legally.

Sustainability and the legality of logging practices were also shown to be a priority above cost for the British public, with 62% of those polled saying they would be willing to pay more for wood that had been legally logged, opposed to wood whose source was unknown.

Responding to these figures, Beibei Yin, Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said: “Given that British consumers are becoming increasingly tapped into the importance of sustainability, these figures are unsurprising.

China’s trade of illegally source lumber is devastating to environments and creates problems for international markets

“As this awareness about where our wood comes from grows, the UK government should ensure that the right checks and balances are being done and that any wood products coming to the UK or China or any other country come from legally and sustainably logged sources.”

China’s timber trade is infamous for being involved with illegal logging practices.

China has no regulations on whether its timber imports are logged legally and no qualms about sourcing their supply of timber from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where illegal logging practices are particularly prevalent.

Global Witness reported that the single largest owner of logging concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nordudtimber, was found to be operating illegally on 90% of their sites.

As one of the UK’s major suppliers of plywood (37% in 2017), China’s involvement with illegal logging trades means that the UK can become inadvertently caught up in the importation of illegal timber.

Currently, the EU’s regulations on the importation and exportation of timber are not tight enough to prevent illegal timber from entering British markets

The WWF warned that, despite the European Union’s (EU) screening processes for timber trade, illegally harvested wood can still find its way into major consumption markets like the EU through supply chains with countries like China.

In its 2017 report on the Chinese timber trade and the flow of illegal timber in the market, the WWF said that over one third of all wood products by value (wood charcoal, for example) are not covered by the EU’s trading regulations. This means some illegal timber products can easily bypass the EU controls.

Currently, the EU’s regulations on the importation and exportation of timber are not tight enough to prevent illegal timber from entering British markets.

The onus for is on the UK’s government to impose more stringent controls on its trade of timber and, especially with Brexit looming, ensure that British legislation is strict enough to effectively prevent illegal timber imports. These measures, as Global Witness’s findings show, are ones that the British public would clearly like to see.

6th December 2018