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New EU initiatives to curb deforestation and import of illegal timber 

27 October 2008

On the 17th of October, the EU revealed a package including two initiatives that aim to curb global deforestation and reduce the EU's import of illegal timber. The package consists of draft legislation on timber import and a communication explaining how EU will tackle tropical deforestation.The two papers have already illicited mixed reponses among industries and NGOs.


The EU is a major consumer of timber and timber products from around the world. EU estimates its annual imports of illegally harvested timber and timber products at 16 million m3, accounting for around 19% of imports from all countries. Existing EU efforts to curb illegal logging are based on voluntary agreements under the so-called Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.

regulation requiring timber importers to show 'due diligence' 

EU proposes to impose a regulation where operators need to demonstrate 'due diligence' when importing and sellling timber and wood products.


It is proposed to make it an obligation for traders to seek sufficient guarantee that products they sell have been harvested according to the relevant laws of the country of origin. Operators would be allowed to develop a due diligence system of their own or rely on existing due diligence systems. Products covered by a FLEGT license or a CITES would be considered as legal according to the proposal.

promotion of certification schemes among key proposed actions

The communication stresses public funding as "the most realistic tool with which to provide incentives for combating deforestation over the period 2013 to 2020.”  However, it also recognizes the need to efficiently  reward the value of the  services provided by forests  and the importance of consumer influence. Promotion of eco-labelling and certification schemes are mentioned as one among 8 key actions which the EU can take to curb deforestation. Other proposed actions include the FLEGT action plan, the proposed legislation on the import of timber, and green public procurement policies. EU proposes to allocate 5 % of the  auctioning revenue gained under the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) for these purposes.

Cautious approach to the inclusion of forests in EU carbon trading scheme

EU recognizes the important role of deforestation in climate change as it accounts for 20% of the world's carbon emissions, and it is proposed to establish a Global Forest Carbon Mechanism (GFCM). 


A pilot project is envisaged under this mechanism on 'deforestation credits', i.e. credits for avoiding deforestation. However, the paper foresees that forests will not be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) until 2020, to allow a thorough review of the implications and use of experience gained. The worry is that such inclusion might do more harm than good if not done in a well-considered manner. It is noted that "full reliance on carbon value would focus solely on the services of forests as carbon stock, while not rewarding other important services that forest ecosystems provide and whose value can be significant".

European paper industries: draft legislation discriminatory to the forest sector in europe

In a response, the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) called on the EU to recognize several mechanisms to ensure legal timber already in use by Eureopean wood industries, among them FSC and PEFC, as conformant with the concept of 'due diligence'.  CEPI also urged the EU to address the underlying causes of illegal harvesting in the countries of origin, rather than placing obligations on the European wood industry. CEPI Managing Director Teresa Presas said: “[...] the current Commission proposal focuses only on wood using industries in Europe and therefore addresses the symptoms of illegal logging without dealing with its root causes. This is discriminatory to the forest sector in Europe in an already difficult economic context”.

mixed response from ngos

WWF and Greenpeace are critical towards the EU package, claiming that its measures are too weak to achieve substantial results on the ground. "The   draft proposal [...] does not have the teeth needed to seriously clamp down on this trade” says Anke Schulmeister, Forest Policy Officer at WWF.

In a statement Sébastien Risso, Greenpeace EU forest policy director, comments: “ The Commission’s proposal for this law will not help European consumers know if the flat-pack wardrobe they bought last Saturday is the result of forest crime". Greenpeace also notes the lack of any proposed action to deal with the EU's consumption of  agricultural commodies - such as soy beans and palm oil - which are identified as drivers of tropical deforestation.


The NGOs Fern and Global Witness, on the other hand, praised the stress put on public funding as the key instrument to curb deforestation, as opposed to market-based instruments. "Entrusting the future of the planet to the markets, in the light of recent financial turmoil, veers between irresponsible and mad", said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. The two organisations also hailed the cautious stance taken by EU regarding the inclusion of forests into the ETS. As for the European Commission’s commitment to halt global forest cover loss by 2030, the statement underlined that this must mean the protection of old growth forests and not the replacement of these forests by plantations.