G8 Ministers Pledge to Curb Illegal Logging, Climate Change

DERBY, UK, March 21, 2005 (ENS) - The world's eight wealthiest nations agreed Friday to tackle climate change in Africa and illegal logging. These policy decisions came emerged from the first-ever joint meeting of environment and development ministers of the Group of Eight Countries, or G8.

The ministerial meeting at Breadsall Priory, Derbyshire was held under the UK Government's G8 Presidency, and it was a prelude to this year's annual G8 Summit taking place July 6 to 8 in Gleneagles, Scotland.

On illegal logging, ministers agreed to tackle both the supply and demand sides by taking steps to halt the import and marketing of such timber, through border control and voluntary bilateral agreements.

But legislative action to prevent imports of illegal timber proposed by the UK in earlier discussions did not appear in the final ministerial statement.

Some observers blame the United States for blocking legislative action on illegal timber. A confidential U.S. State Department strategy document revealed on BBC Newsnight March 15 stated opposition to "ineffective or unworkable actions, especially on the demand side."

"Demand side actions involving new import or procurement regulations/restrictions are unacceptable and should not be high-lighted," the State Department document said. "US will work with Canada to hold back procurement and other unacceptable demand-side actions, and with Russia and Japan to dissuade them from supporting the UK," it strategized.

But that U.S. objection appears to have been only partly successful because the G8 ministers did agree to use government procurement to ensure that governments do not contribute to the problem of illegal logging.

Ministers also agreed to do more to support developing countries' own efforts to enforce forest law and improve governance.

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British Minister of International Development Hilary Benn (Photo courtesy U. Sussex)
British Minister of International Development Hilary Benn said his government is "delighted" with the agreement of the G8 ministers "to practical action, so that we can try to improve people's livelihoods and stop further damage to the environment."

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel was pleased that the UK has placed illegal logging on the agenda of the G8, but he expressed "disappointment at the lack of new concrete outcomes."

"The practice is responsible for vast environmental damage in developing countries and impoverishes rural communities which depend on forest products for a living," Michel said.

It is estimated that illegal logging costs governments in developing countries €10 to 15 billion every year in lost revenue, Michel said." It is also closely associated with corruption, and serves to fuel the cycle of bribery and graft which does so much to curtail growth and prosperity in the developing world."

This is a very important agreement, Benn maintains. "Illegal logging is a problem shared by those producing and exporting timber and timber products and those that import them. Tackling illegal logging will enable the poorest countries to manage their forests better, reduce poverty and protect natural resources.

"It does not make sense to give development assistance on the one hand while importing cheap illegal timber on the other," he said.

Ministers discussed how G8 members could support timber producing and exporting countries to implement domestic reforms. They also discussed how G8 countries must ensure that, as major importers of timber, their own policies supported good practice.

Greenpeace, too, expressed "disappointment" with the ministers for side-stepping legislation to keep illegally harvested timber out of their countries.

Nathalie Rey from Greenpeace International said, "This is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound."

"Although the G8 committed to a range of important actions to address illegal logging in their statement," said Rey, "it is unsatisfactory that the statement only refers to voluntary measures, which will do little to curb the flooding of G8 markets with these products."

Greenpeace also worries that the ministers' policy as written, "ignores the huge impact that legalized, but unsustainable, logging has on the world's forests and the millions of people that rely on them directly for their livelihood."

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Illegal timber seized by Belgian authorities sits at the Port of Antwerp, 2003. (Photo by Belgian Customs courtesy TRAFFIC)
The UK Department of Environment (DEFRA) announced half a million pounds over three years, to extend guidance on legal timber procurement to the wider public sector, and to share knowledge on procurement with the G8 and other countries.

DEFRA granted an additional £1 million for forestry biodiversity projects under the Darwin Initiative to support producer countries, particularly in west and central Africa.

And the UK announced continued support for an innovative EU scheme that will deny access to EU markets for illegally harvested timber.

But environment and conservation groups say the G8 has dropped the issue of illegal logging that was once considered important by the group of eight leaders. "Since the adoption of the G8 Action Programme on Forests in May 1998, the rate of illegal logging has actually increased," they said in a statement.

The NGOs said that G8 leaders should insist on independent forest monitoring. “Independent monitoring makes verification systems more credible and less prone to corruption.”

They said monitoring helps in the detection of forest crimes and the auditing of government performance, and in the development and implementation of government policies, particularly in countries where governance is poor, corruption rife, and political support for the elimination of illegal logging is often minimal.

But not all environmental groups were disappointed with the G8 ministers' proposals to curb illegal logging. Patrick Alley of Global Witness said, "This is an essential first step towards sustainability."

Representing timber importers, agents, distributors and other suppliers and users of wood and wood products, Andy Roby of the Timber Trade Federation said, "The UK timber trade only wants to trade in legal timber and it recognizes the need to control illegal timber import. We call on other key markets and traders in the EU, US, Japan and China to join our efforts to buy only verified legal timber."

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Illegally logged forest in Russia. (Photo courtesy WWF Denmark)
The EU's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, centers on a licensing system for legal timber exported from partner countries.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring branch of WWF and IUCN-the World Conservation Union issued a statement urging G8 member countries to address issues such as timber tracking systems, chain-of-custody certification and timber trade as an integral part of solving the global problem of illegal logging.

On the impact of climate change on Africa, the ministers noted that African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and climate change and, like many developing countries, are already experiencing more dangerous climate effects.

They discussed the urgent need to assist Africa to reduce vulnerability by building resilience to climate variability and by developing capacity to adapt to climate change.

And they committed to supporting the need for an effective international response to build scientific capacity and integrate measures to address the impact of climate change in international development assistance and national development plans.

Margaret Beckett UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said, "It is disturbing that scientists tell us that climate change will mean Africa can expect more frequent droughts and more serious floods. This will severely affect farming, health and infrastructure, undermining efforts to tackle Africa's poverty."

Beckett announced that the UK government will spend £100,000 towards regional predictions of climate change for Africa and £400,000 over the next three years towards a new multi-country initiative on advancing knowledge, capacity and networks in support of climate change in Africa.

"The priority for Africa must be to reduce its vulnerability to existing extremes of climate and to prepare it for longer-term effects in future," she said. "This means helping Africa to build its climate monitoring capacity and improving the way we manage climate risks in development."

Ministers discussed a report commissioned for this meeting, "Climate proofing Africa," which outlines what is known about the impact of climate change on development and poverty in Africa, the weaknesses of the African network for observing the climate, the lack of scientific and technical capacity, and what more needs to be done to help "climate proof" Africa's development.

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Margaret Beckett UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Photo courtesy IISD)
"Beckett said, "I am particularly encouraged by the growing engagement of development and finance Ministers in recognizing the impact of climate change, this greatest of global threats."

Earlier in the week, ministers from 20 countries and representatives from international organizations, business and non-governmental organizations participated in the Energy and Environment Ministerial Roundtable held in London on March 15 and 16.

This innovative event brought together ministers from both developed and developing countries to consider the challenges and opportunities for investment in sustainable and secure energy systems in a lower carbon world.

"We began to build an agenda for action in response to the challenge of climate change," the ministers said. "This agenda will need to be taken forward in a wide range of contexts – in national policy-making, through international agreements and partnerships – and by a wide range of actors – international institutions, governments, business and civil society."

Despite different national circumstances, ministers shared common goals of energy and environment policy such as providing security of supply with energy systems that are resilient, reliable and diversified; and protecting local and global environmental quality, including addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

In his keynote speech, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, said, “If our economies are to flourish, if global poverty is to be banished, and if the well-being of the world’s people enhanced – not just in this generation but in succeeding generations – we must make sure we take care of the natural environment and the resources on which our economic activity depends. And we now have evidence that climate change is the most far-reaching – and almost certainly the most threatening – of all the environmental challenges facing us.”

Minister Liu Jiang, vice-chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, said, “Climate change is a challenge faced by every nation in the world."

"China is willing to work with the international community to explore solutions for climate change," said Liu. "Such solutions should not only take into consideration the actual situation of individual nations, but also give full play to the initiative of all nations."

During the two days of discussions at the Roundtable, ministers identified common ground. They agreed that there is "great potential for further development of renewables, and in particular biomass and biofuels, to combine benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions with job creation, rural development, and managing environmental issues including waste and desertification."

They agreed on the importance of energy efficiency measures to enhance energy security, reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, improve local air quality and save money.

The ministers agreed to undertake the challenge of reducing emissions from transport, both vehicles and aviation, through efficiency and advances in fuel technologies.

Cleaner power production is important the ministers agreed, saying they would raise the efficiency of existing coal-fired power plants and ensure that the best available technology is widely deployed.

The ministers said they will work towards improving public awareness, regulation, codes and standards, labeling, fiscal incentives, and including energy efficiency advice in project lending decisions.