Driven by American demand for cheap furniture, China has become the greatest importer of illegal timber. The illegal timber trade is devastating forests across Africa and Asia.
A study published in the Royal Geographical Society in 2018 demonstrates the relationship between the exportation of timber to China and the destruction of forests in the Congo Basin. Researchers studied data collected from 2001 to 2015 to see how tree-cover changed during that period. Tree-cover loss had been measured by remote sensing.
Over that 15-year period, timber exports from countries in the Congo Basin to China doubled. 50% of these timber exports came from Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. Researchers found a positive correlation between increased timber exports to China and tree-cover loss in the Congo Basin. Additionally, Chinese timber imports from the Congo Basin increased with a rise in American demand for furniture made in China.
Illegal Timber Trade
The global illegal timber trade is a lucrative one. Estimates suggest that 30% of the timber produced each year is done so illegally. The illegal timber industry is worth between $30 and $100 billion annually. Its impacts on the environment and developing countries are disastrous.
According to a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, illegal loggers clear a football field-sized area of forest every two seconds. In 2008 alone, more than 12 million acres of forest were lost to illegal logging. Eventually, this leads to forest clearances. When robust forests get diminished by logging, there is an opportunity to completely clear them to make way for plantations.
Developing countries bear the brunt of the illegal timber trade. Their forests are not well-regulated, and there is often weak law enforcement, which can lead to corruption. Estimates indicate that developing countries lose $15 billion in taxes and revenue each year to illegal logging. These losses slow down development and further destabilize struggling areas. The illegal timber trade is extremely profitable, and protecting it has led to violence and murder in many cases. It has also contributed to armed conflicts in countries like Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and Liberia.
Taking on Illegal Logging
Countries around the world have recognized the significant impact of the illegal timber trade and are taking measures to curb it. The most successful reforms have been improved regulation in timber exporting countries, as well as amending the markets in consumer countries like the European Union and the United States. The EU’s 2003 Forest Law Enforcement Government and Trade Action Plan, as well as the US’s 2008 Amendment to the Lacey Act establish clear guidelines for verifying where timber imports come from. These reforms have led to a 22% reduction in illegal timber production globally since 2002.
China remains the biggest trader of illegal timber in the world. As long as the country continues to import and consume illegal timber at its current rate, there will be dire consequences for the environment and developing countries.
To deter China’s role in the illegal timber trade, countries that import its products, such as the US, must continue to demand goods made from legally logged timber, rather than cheap furniture manufactured from stolen resources.
Reference: | Eia-International | Rgs-Ibg