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News in brief - September 2015

15 septembre 2015

In August 2015 Fern revealed the true cost of a summer barbecue with its report Playing with Fire: Human misery, environmental destruction and summer BBQs. Around 70 per cent of Europe’s charcoal is imported; Playing with Fire focuses on the case of Namibia, the UK’s biggest supplier of charcoal. The report attracted widespread coverage and highlighted how Namibia’s charcoal industry fuels the illegal harvesting of trees on a vast scale and the deplorable conditions in which workers operate. Many live in dwellings made from black plastic sheets, without access to running water or toilets, while charcoal is made in archaic kilns that are hazardous to the workers’ health and environment. The report presses for the inclusion of charcoal in the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) and shows how EU consumption is driving illegal deforestation across the planet. Coverage of the report in Namibia has sparked a debate about regulating the charcoal industry there.

Over the course of one week in July 2015, Myanmar sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging, and then freed them again along with almost 7,000 others in a ‘presidential amnesty.’ The U-turn may have been provoked by China’s ‘diplomatic protest’ at the sentences, or a case of political posturing ahead of Myanmar’s general election in November. The country has been exploring opening negotiations for a VPA since the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) came in to force in 2013, prohibiting illegally harvested timber from being placed on the EU market, even when it comes via a third country, such as China. A high proportion of wood products entering the UK from China do not meet EUTR requirements.

That 2014 was a bad year for tree cover comes as no surprise: what is shocking is how bad it was. New data from the University of Maryland and Google, released by Global Forest Watch, reveals that an area measuring some 18 million hectares – twice the size of Portugal – was deforested in 2014. Tropical forests suffered most, losing 9.9 million hectares, with new crisis areas emerging in the Mekong River Basin, West Africa, the Gran Chaco region of South America and Madagascar. The Landsat satellite system, which can cover the globe every 16 days at 30-metre resolution, indicates that loss of tree cover is gathering speed in the biodiversity-rich tropics, driven largely by demand for commodities such as rubber, beef, palm oil and soy. Forest clearing on such a scale will inevitably have massive negative impacts on local communities, and on climate change, including through the diminishing possibility for carbon sequestration.

Ghana may be ready to issue its first FLEGT licence in early 2016, according to the latest statements from Ghana’s Forestry Commission. Dr Richard Gyimah, manager of the Timber Validation Department, said that Ghana now only needed to pass the European Commission’s second assessment of the system Ghana has put in place to ensure timber is legal. Dr Gyimah made the comments during a meeting organised by the Ghanaian civil society organisation Civic Response in August 2015.

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 FERN works to achieve environmental and social justice with a focus on forests and forest peoples' rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

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