Deforestation, Land Clearing & Illegal Logging. Who’s keeping Count?

Deforestation, Land Clearing & Illegal Logging. Who’s keeping Count?

Ecuador broke the world record for reforestation in May 2015, as thousands of people pitched in to plant 647,250 trees in a single day. Brazil has in recent years done much to tackle the previously rampant levels of deforestation but the BBC’s Wyre Davies reports that  “we have seen statistics which show that rates of Amazon destruction are again on the rise”. It’s difficult to get a clear picture of the current global state of deforestation, even though it accounts for at least 20% of global emissions of greenhouse gases and forests are still being cleared at an alarming rate in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Chatham House has a report on illegal logging – just one of the associated issues. Read More

Business Insider reported in May:

Volunteers in Ecuador just planted 647,250 trees – in one day.

Ecuador broke the world record for reforestation in May 2015, as thousands of people pitched in to plant 647,250 trees in a single day, President Rafael Correa said.

“I have just been informed that we have broken the Guinness record for reforestation,” the president said in his weekly address.

He said several different species were planted and that the reforestation efforts took place all over Ecuador, which boasts varied geography from its Pacific coast, high Andean peaks and low Amazon basin.

Environment Minister Lorena Tapia said on Twitter that 44,883 people planted the trees on more than 2,000 hectares of land.

The record, set just last year, apparently was taken from a group in the Philippines, Guinness said.

Scientists believe planting trees helps offset carbon buildup, as they sequester carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and help to reduce global warming.

Ecuador holds several other world records, including the most plastic bottles recycled in one week and the most people buried in sand simultaneously, according to Guinness.

Read more:

Brazil’s Amazon wilderness at risk from organised crime

From Wyre Davies, BBC Rio de Janeiro correspondent (9 July):

Wyre Davies has been out with Brazil’s environmental police, as they raid illegal logging camps

We are flying low in helicopter formation over the Brazilian Amazon with agents from Ibama – the state-funded institute responsible for environmental protection.

No country has done more than Brazil in recent years to tackle the previously rampant levels of deforestation but there is a good reason the agents have their guns drawn – we have seen statistics which show that rates of Amazon destruction are again on the rise.

There are big profits to be made from illegal logging and the fraudulent clearing of rainforest for valuable cash crops and these helicopter patrols are often shot at.

Trying to locate illegal logging operations in the midst of this dense jungle from the air is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Destroyed on the spot

There are probably thousands of small illegal logging camps across the Amazon. Men armed with machetes and chainsaws, cutting down valuable Brazilian hardwoods are the foot soldiers in a highly profitable and dangerous trade.

Those that are caught risk arrest, their camps are set alight and their machinery, including expensive tractors and other equipment, are destroyed on the spot.

All of this might appear harsh but, says Maria Luisa de Sousa, the Ibama official who has been co-ordinating this month-long operation in northern and eastern Mato Grosso, the fight to save the Amazon is increasingly a fight against organised crime.

“You can compare it to the struggle against drugs trafficking. The crime and the criminals keep on adapting.”

As we wait for our helicopter to be refuelled before heading out on another mission she adds: “They’re getting even more sophisticated, using even bigger tools to deforest, which makes it even more dangerous for us.”.

Everything felled

We fly on, over virgin jungle, but also over immense fields of soya and corn, cash crops that have earned valuable export profits for Brazil in recent decades and also help to feed the growing population in the south of the country.

Some of the most recent deforestation sometimes seems blatant and egregious. Down below we spot two huge tractors – the “new beasts” of the jungle.

They are involved in one of the most destructive forms of deforestation in the Amazon.

In this case, several acres of trees have been felled in a couple of days or weeks. Dragging a huge, steel chain between them, the tractors have felled everything in their path.

New monthly figures show that deforestation rates in some parts of Brazil have almost doubled compared to last year.

Those statistics also show that increasing amounts of wood are illegally taken from protected indigenous reserves.

Last week in a highly publicised trip to Washington, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff expressed her “deep concern” for the climate and in a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama, she made numerous pledges about the environment – promising among other things to stop all illegal deforestation.

But many environmentalists are sceptical about her ability to deliver on her promises.

Under tighter economic constraints her government has repeatedly cut environmental budgets, while the emphasis has often lent towards the right of Brazil to develop and exploit its resources over the need to protect biodiversity.

As long as that remains the case and if President Rousseff fails to match the rhetoric in Washington with the appropriate resources, the future of this unique wilderness remains in jeopardy.


Progress in tackling illegal logging slows as new trends offset effective reforms

Chatham House reports (15 July 2015):

Efforts to address illegal logging and reduce the trade in illegal timber have borne fruit and prompted some positive reforms in producer countries, a new report from Chatham House has found. However, changes in the sector mean overall trade in illegal timber has not fallen in the last decade.

EU and US policies designed to reduce demand for illegal timber have helped cut illegal imports to those markets. These reforms and the EU’s partnership agreements with producer countries have prompted improvements in forest governance and a fall in large-scale illegal timber production.

But growth of demand in emerging markets means that the progressive policies of so-called ‘sensitive markets’ are now less influential. China is now the world’s largest importer and consumer of wood-based products, as well as a key processing hub. India, South Korea, and Vietnam are also growing markets. The increasing role of small-scale producers, whose activities often fall outside legal frameworks, and a rapid increase in illegal forest conversion, also present new challenges.

Alison Hoare: ‘The EU and US have spearheaded some progressive and effective reforms. However, the changing scale and nature of the problem demands more coordinated international action. To stop further deforestation and associated carbon emissions, and to help achieve global objectives for sustainable development, the EU and US need to maintain their leadership while other countries – especially China, Japan, India and South Korea – need to step up their efforts to tackle illegal logging.’

The Chatham House report, which is based on the studies of 19 countries, which include key producers, consumers, or processors of timber, and is an update of a 2010 study found:

Timber production

More than 80 million m3 of timber was illegally produced in 2013 in the nine producer countries assessed, accounting for about one-third of their combined total production.

An estimated 60% of this illegal timber is destined for these countries’ domestic markets.

Small-scale producers are increasingly important – for example, in Cameroon, the DRC and Ghana, they account for an estimated 50, 90 and 70% respectively of annual timber production. The majority of this is illegal.

For the nine producer countries, the area of forest under voluntary legality verification or sustainability certification schemes increased by nearly 80% between 2000 and 2013.

Imports of illegal wood-based products

In most of the consumer and producer countries assessed, the volume of illegal imports of wood-based products fell during the period 2000–13.

The exceptions were China, and India and Vietnam where the volume of illegal imports more than doubled.

As a proportion of the whole, illegal imports declined for nearly all countries.

However, at the global level, the proportion of illegal timber imports remained steady at 10% – a result of the growth of the Chinese market.

The EU and US

The volumes of illegal imports into the UK, France and the Netherlands nearly halved over the period 2000-13, from just under 4 million m3 to 2 million m3.

The volume of illegal imports into the US increased between 2000 and 2006, from around 5 to 9 million m3, and then declined to just under 6 million m3 in 2013.

In 2013, more than 60% of illegal imports of wood-based products to the UK and US came from China.


The volume of illegal imports into China doubled between 2000 and 2013 from 17 to 33 million m3; but as a proportion of the whole illegal imports fell, from 26 to 17%.

The volume of exports of wood-based products (legal and illegal) from the nine producer countries to China nearly tripled, from 12 million m3 in 2000 to 34 million m3 in 2013.

The Chatham House report makes the following recommendations:

The EU and US need to maintain and reinforce current efforts

Other countries need to take stronger action – China in particular, but also India, Japan and South Korea

Strong international cooperation is needed to maintain & reinforce current efforts – the G20 could provide a forum to galvanise international action

Producer countries need to focus on strengthening efforts to tackle corruption, improving legality within the small-scale sector, and reforming land-use governance

Alison Hoare: ‘Developing countries are losing significant amounts of potential revenue from illegal logging, which is also causing the loss and degradation of forests, depleting livelihoods, and contributing to social conflict and corruption. Tackling illegal logging and strengthening forest governance are essential for achieving critical climate and development goals. Having seen the progress that can be made, it’s imperative that governments agree to work together to rise to new challenges and promote a more sustainable forest sector for the benefit of all.’


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