From illegal logging to sustainable forest management

Illegal logging

Illegal logging and the international trade in illegal timber is one of the most significant threats for forests. Timber is chopped, transported, processed, sold or purchased in violation of the national and/or local legislation. Export taxes are for instance not paid, property rights are not respected...

Every two seconds an area of forest the equivalent of a football field disappears worldwide due to illegal logging. The consequences of this are noticeable in different aspects: both from an ecological and economic and also a social point of view.

The ecological consequences not only include deforestation but also consequences for the climate and biodiversity. Illegal logging takes place at random, uncontrolled and often results in irreparable damage. Deforestation represents 20% of the CO2-emission globally. Deforestation literally causes the lungs of our earth to disappear, but it is also a threat to the biodiversity. After all, forests harbour nearly 90% of the biodiversity on the land.

The World Bank has identified several consequences from an economic and social point of view. Illegal logging causes a loss of income of 10 to 15 billion dollars worldwide. Illegal logging often goes hand in hand with corruption, undermines the rule of law and proper administration and finances armed conflicts. Illegal logging also results in the fact that indigenous populations of the rainforest no longer have access to their territory to hunt and gather firewood, which sometimes leads to violence. In the worst-case scenario, the rainforest gets destroyed and the human rights of the indigenous population are violated.

Just like any consumer country, Belgium also bears responsibility because a not so negligible portion of the imported timber in Belgium is probably illegal. It is estimated that 6-13% of the imported timber is illegal at European level. To end this, first the FLEGT Regulation and then the Timber Regulation were passed.

This observation, combined with the fact that much of the world's deforestation is linked to the expansion of agriculture, has prompted Belgium to join the Amsterdam Partnership, whose aim is to combat imported deforestation.

Other causes of deforestation

In addition to logging, the exploitation for agriculture (not only for the production  of food and raising cattle, but also for energy production), the irrational exploitation of natural resources such as oil, mining, the development of roads and forest fires also have a baleful influence. The situation is serious especially in the tropics but the deforestation, forest degradation and the decrease of biodiversity is also a big problem in the temperate and northern regions.

Sustainable forest management and legally produced timber

Sustainable forest management is ecologically justified, socially acceptable and economically profitable. In other words, it takes into account not only the plant and animal life but also the soil and water management. Additionally, it respects the applicable national laws as well as the rights of the indigenous populations who live in the forests or depend on it for their livelihood. The safety and proper working conditions of the forest workers are taken into account. Sustainable forest management also includes an economically profitable exploitation, which is beneficial in an honest way for all parties involved.

That is why it is not a coincidence that the legal requirements to produce timber are based on the principles of sustainability. An overview of the legal means at different levels can be found in the section 'Role of the authorities’.

What can you do?

Timber, whether it is of legal or illegal origin or from sustainably or non- sustainably managed forests, eventually ends up with the consumer. In other words, at your home. How can you know if the timber or the wood products that you buy originates from a sustainably managed forest? By checking if it has the FSC or PEFC sustainability label.

Preferably choose local types of timber. This will also limit the CO2-emission of transport.