What's the problem with illegal logging?

Illegal logging is a global problem. It damages forests, devastates communities and wildlife, aggravates climate change, and keeps forested countries locked in cycles of poverty and corruption. Interpol estimates that governments lose around US$50-150 billion annually in tax revenue from illegal logging alone. 

Yet there are still not strong enough measures to ensure consumers and companies don’t unwittingly buy illegal timber and wood-based products.   

Since this is a complex problem, solutions must be multifaceted. Addressing illegal logging means dealing with corruption, lack of clarity over land rights, and the excessive influence of the timber industry over forest policies and legislation. 

What has been achieved so far

In 2003 the EU launched its flagship Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. It set out a series of measures to improve forest governance and end the scourge of illegal logging, including the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which requires companies to verify the legality of timber products they import into the EU. Member States must also check that companies are complying. 

FLEGT also launched trade deals between the EU and timber producing countries, called Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs), which aim to ensure that wood exported to the EU is legally produced, and that exporting countries improve national laws, tackle corruption and unclear land tenure and access rights.  

As of early 2024 there was one licensing country, Indonesia, and eight negotiating countries. Several more countries have started discussions with the EU and steps are regularly taken to improve forest governance and end illegal logging. 

When done well, VPAs are transparent and inclusive, allowing different groups – from the government, the private sector, civil society and forest communities – to discuss and agree on forest management. They are the only trade agreements that champion such a bold and innovative approach – a real model of multi-stakeholder governance.  

There have, however, been problems along the way including lack of EUTR enforcement, and a lack of Member State support meaning that some countries’ policies give preferential treatment to certified rather than FLEGT-licensed timber. There have also been critiques that VPA implementation and negotiating phases have taken too long to solve the urgent problem of illegal logging. 

Watch the video "Introducing FLEGT"

What’s next? 

The EU has now broadened its focus, looking at how to protect forests from products other than timber. In December 2022, the EU adopted the Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) to tackle the global deforestation and forest degradation that is driven by EU consumption and production of forest risk commodities, including timber. The EUDR entered into implementation in 2023 and is also applicable to EU forests. Click here to read more.

National NGOs and civil society welcomed the new policy but criticised the EU for failing to learn from VPAs and undertake meaningful consultation on how to best design legislation and support measures. Fern has produced a discussion paper looking at how the EUDR and FLEGT can learn from each other.  
There are also concerns that if the EU cleans up its supply chains, illegal timber will still be exported to other major importers such as China or the United States. In response a number of timber producing countries have formed the Broader Market Recognition Coalition to incentivise sustainable tropical forest management. 

Talk to us

Alexandra Benjamin

Alexandra Benjamin

Forest Governance Campaigner

Tyala Ifwanga

Tyala Ifwanga

Forest Governance Campaigner

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