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Congo rainforest, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic © Andy Isaacson / WWF-US

UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) Unsustainable Timber Trade

Congo rainforest, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic © Andy Isaacson / WWF-US

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Published 11th November 2021

Will COP26 forestry pledges to tackle climate change strengthen the fight against illegal timber trade?

Following the draft UN Climate Change Conference (CoP26) decision that emphasised the critical importance of safeguarding forests to protect biodiversity and the net-zero goal, TRAFFIC urges global governments to ensure efforts to reduce illegal logging are included in the bid to mitigate climate change.


A report1 released by UNESCO, WRI, IUCN in October 2021 acknowledged that human activities such as the degradation of the forests through agricultural conversion, unsustainable harvesting, and illegal logging are driving factors of deforestation (the second leading cause of carbon emissions). This has resulted in some forests emitting more carbon than they absorb and others not capturing carbon as effectively. Alongside this, the State of the World’s Trees Report recently estimated 30% of nearly 60,000 trees are threatened with extinction in the wild due to forest clearance, habitat loss and the direct exploitation of timber and other products.

While The Global Forest Finance Pledge promises $12 billion over the next five years to protect forests, peatlands and other critical carbon stores, with at least $1.5 billion going towards efforts in the Congo Basin, TRAFFIC calls for this international pledge to include a focus on curbing illegal logging.

While the financial pledges made by governments at CoP26 are welcomed, it is fundamental that global governments work together to enhance the legality, sustainability and traceability of wild timber products. Governments need to also provide the vital resources needed by officers on the ground to tackle the unsustainable human activities that will perpetuate climate change emissions if left unchecked.”

Anastasiya Timoshyna TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Co-ordinator on Sustainable Trade

Forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis in Odzala-Kokoua NP, Republic of Congo, the heart of the Congo Basin. © Jaap van der Waarde / WWF- Netherlands

The Congo Basin, home to the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, is crucial for climate change mitigation, a vital ecosystem for biodiversity and is a major source of the world’s tropical timber. While according to the report, the World Heritage Forests in the Congo Basin remain carbon sinks, they are under increasing pressure of human activity.

“We are increasingly aware just how we depend on forests and the services they provide, such as freshwater, biodiversity and clean air. But in large parts of Africa, the loss of these forests is caused by shifting agriculture and unsustainable harvesting – without tackling these causes, there is simply no way to reach the climate goals or the sustainable development goals,” said Nina Lande, Senior Adviser Department for Climate and Environment, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

Since 2009, Central African timber exports to China have increased 60%. The country is now the top export destination for Congo Basin timber. The ever-increasing demand has put the Congo Basin rainforest and its vibrant species under threat from overharvesting and illegal logging.

Reducing deforestation, illegal logging, and the associated impacts on biodiversity loss and reduced carbon capture require targeted interventions throughout the supply chain; from the source, all the way through transit and finally at the consumer end. TRAFFIC is aiming to stop the destructive human activities threatening these vital ecosystems, local economies and the health of the planet with a five-year project that encourages the sustainable management of timber through supply chains.

“We aim to stop illegally sourced timber from ever reaching consumers by working with major timber trade associations in manufacturing and destination countries to enhance industry standards and incorporate legality verification systems along the supply chain,” said Tom Osborn, TRAFFIC’s Senior Manager - Global Projects. “It is only by reducing illegal logging and promoting sustainable harvesting, through initiatives such as our NICFI-funded project, that biodiverse ecosystems like the Congo Basin rainforests may be able to breathe easy again.”

Forest destruction, Chinese logging, Souanke, Republic of Congo © Jaap van der Waarde / WWF-Netherlands

TRAFFIC is closely working with industry and governments to support the further development and update of national frameworks for forest and timber trade in six countries in the Congo Basin region2.

“Breaking down the barriers enforcement officials face in their fight against illegal logging is vital to achieving a sustainable supply chain for timber from the Congo Basin. We are working with partners to develop new tools to verify the legitimate sourcing of timber products and support the communication and coordination between agencies to increase detection and investigation,” said Tom Osborn.

TRAFFIC’s ‘Leveraging legality along China’s timber supply to reduce deforestation,’ project aims to draw upon China’s and Viet Nam’s significant market role in the timber supply chain from source countries in the Congo Basin to reduce unsustainable forestry operations and illegal logging that could threaten vital carbon sinks for climate change mitigation.

The project builds on relationships developed by working closely with government authorities to provide the most up-to-date identification techniques in manufacturing countries like Viet Nam. This project will also generate social and behavioural change communications to reach consumers in destination markets and reduce the motivations behind the purchase of products containing unsustainable timber products.

If the financial pledges are met and collaborative efforts are made from actors along the supply chain to prevent illegal logging and implement sustainable timber legality frameworks, legal timber trade can support local livelihoods, combat biodiversity loss and have long-lasting contributions to mitigate climate change.


Notes:

  1. UNESCO, WRI, IUCN, 2021: World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure, Paris, UNESCO.
  2. TRAFFIC will support the further development and updating of national legality frameworks for forest and timber in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea.  

The project is supported through Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI).


Norway's International Forest and Climate Initiative

NICFI is administered by the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and the Environment in collaboration with Norad – The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The initiative supports bilateral agreements with forest countries, multinational organisations and civil society.