News in brief - June 206

10 junho 2016

China’s rapid economic growth has spurred a massive demand for natural resources, including timber, agricultural commodities and minerals. The vast bulk of these are imported from countries in the Mekong region and West and Central Africa, processed in China and then exported to places such as the EU. Despite this, little is known about how civil society in the EU and timber-exporting countries can help control the trade in illegally sourced timber. Fern’s new report, EU – China relationships in the Forestry Sector, gives an overview of the Chinese timber trade and proposes how to engage with China to ensure its economic growth has fewer negative environmental and social impacts.

The European Commission’s DG Environment has published a study on impacts onresource efficiency of future EU demand for bioenergy. The study explores the potential impacts, interactions and implications for resource efficiency that could come from increased bioenergy demand. It is based on the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM), to assess competition for land resources, and the Global Forest Model (G4M) to compare income from forests with that derived from alternative uses of land. The study feeds into EU-level discussions on bioenergy and renewable energy policies post-2020. It shows that intensified use of biomass – primarily from existing forests both within and outside the EU – could lead to negative impacts on biodiversity and strong competition for wood between sectors. It advises the EU to adopt better guidance policies on the use of biomass within the EU, as these are necessary to ensure adequate levels of biodiversity protection and could bring simultaneous climate change mitigation benefits.

EU Member States have come closer to implementing the EU Timber Regulation(EUTR), according to the Commission’s latest scorecard on the regulation. The scorecard gives a snapshot of how well each Member State is putting the EUTR into practice, and the latest edition shows a marked improvement. The EUTR prohibits illegal timber entering the EU market. It came in to force in 2013 and in recent months has begun to bare its teeth. Sweden and the Netherlands both issued warnings to companies not meeting their requirements under the regulation (FW214).

The Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment, on 26 May 2016, asked the government to impose requirements to ensure that Norway’s public procurement supply chains are ‘deforestation free’ – seemingly the world’s first nation to make so bold a move. The announcement follows years of pressure from NGOs, and commitments made, along with Germany and the UK, in 2014. Details on how this will be implemented must now be elaborated, but the new policy targets consumption of goods linked to tropical deforestation, such as palm oil, soy, paper and wood products. Norway’s commitment to zero-deforestation is serious: its sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, dropped more than 100 companies from its portfolio for environmental reasons between 2012 - 2015, and in 2015, divested from six palm oil companies, four pulp and paper, and one coal firm because of links to forest destruction. It remains for other national governments to adopt the sincerest form of flattery, and follow suit.

In most tropical forested countries, small and medium forest sector enterprises (SMEs) support the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes accounting for more than 50 per cent of forest sector employment. Chatham House research paperhas found that most of this small-scale activity is informal and therefore technically illegal. Main problems include the absence of a legal basis to undertake commercial timber harvesting, unclear tenure rights and weak forest law enforcement. Most governments do not provide adequate incentive or support to small and medium enterprises, prioritising instead large-scale, export-oriented forest activities. The Chatham House report suggests that the UN Sustainable Development Goals could support the development of the small-scale forest sector by developing indicators to improve legality. Fern would add that such indicators could be developed under VPA multi-stakeholder processes, which aim to establish a legal forest sector and which allows SMEs, NGOs and communities to participate in policy discussions.

Greenpeace Russia’s analysis of satellite data has shown that seasonal forest fires in eastern Russia are twice as big as the 500,000-hectare blaze burning in Alberta, Canada, and 10 times the size admitted by the Russian government. NASA satellites have revealed plumes of smoke emerging from the boreal forests on the Russia-China border, part of the largest forested region in the world. Fires are started annually, mainly to burn vegetation for agricultural operations, but climate change has dried the area, meaning the fires burn more violently. The Russian Federal Forest Agency disputes the findings, claiming that satellite-monitoring footage is unable to differentiate between areas on fire and areas engulfed by smoke.

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