The EU has not been doing enough to tackle illegal logging and the trade of illegally harvested timber, says a report by the European court of auditors (ECA). The report found that four countries - Greece, Hungary, Romania and Spain - have yet to fully implement the EU action plan on forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT).
FLEGT, introduced in 2003, is the EU's flagship policy on timber trade. It states that any company importing timber into the EU must ensure that it has not been obtained illegally; if it is has, it should not be traded.
Under the action plan, Europe has entered into several voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) with timber-producing countries. It has allocated €300m to 35 countries between 2003 and 2013 to help them license their timber.
Unfortunately, the ECA noted that, "in general, progress has been very slow and many countries have struggled to overcome the barriers to good governance. In the 12 years since the Commission introduced the action plan, no partner country has obtained fully-approved FLEGT licensing."
Earlier this year, environmental NGO Fern revealed that, "the EU is one of the largest importers of products resulting from illegal deforestation. In 2012, it imported €6bn of soy, beef, leather and palm oil that were grown or reared on land illegally cleared of forests in the tropics - almost a quarter of the total world trade."
In other words, explained the campaigners, "(an area equivalent to) one football pitch of forest was illegally felled every two minutes during the period 2000-12 in order to supply the EU with these commodities."
Reacting to the ECA's report, S&D group MEP Paul Brannen said it was, "well-timed. Not only can it hopefully influence the revision of the FLEGT due early next year, it also comes just before world leaders start to arrive in Paris for the global climate conference."
"A little over a month ago, the Secretary General of the UNFCCC, Christina Figueres, informed members of Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee that 'performance-based' financing, designed to stop tropical deforestation, is high on the agenda of the conference and will likely make it to the final climate agreement."
"A particularly notable development since FLEGT Action Plan was agreed in 2003 is that the main driver of illegal logging has changed. The reason why trees are cut down in developing countries these days is to make space for agriculture, mostly soy plantations and grasslands populated by cattle to feed Europe's growing appetite for beef. Newly-revised FLEGT must take this game-changer into account", he added.
ALDE group MEP Catherine Bearder was, "very angry that Europe is failing to implement our side of international and EU agreements to tackle illegal logging. Deforestation accounts for more global greenhouse gas emissions than the whole of the EU combined."
"If the Commission is serious about tackling climate change it must take action to end the import of illegal timber into the EU. How can we convince developing countries to address illegal logging if we fail to meet our side of the bargain?"
However, Fern’s campaigns coordinator Saskia Ozinga pointed out that, "the auditors have looked at FLEGT as one simple programme with one simple aim, when in fact the situation in different timber-producing countries varies greatly."
"While progress in some countries has been painfully slow, the FLEGT action plan remains the EU's most effective policy on tropical forests to date; it's the first scheme of its kind to address the root causes of illegal and unsustainable logging.
She highlighted that, "ending the destruction of the planet's forests means changing the balance of power in the countries where it's happening, through addressing corruption and cutting out illegally sourced timber from the supply chain."
"The first VPAs were only signed four years ago, so to expect deep-seated, fundamental governance changes in such a short time is unrealistic. The auditors appear to be underestimating the enormity of this task."