Brazilian authorities seize illegally logged Amazonian timber

Feature story - 11 April, 2008
The Brazilian environmental agency seems to have finally woken up to the problem of illegally logged Amazonian timber leaving their shores.

BSLE Express in Santarém port in April 2008 after being arrested for carrying Amazon illegal timber to Europe.

The Brazilian environmental agency seems to have finally woken up to the problem of illegally logged Amazonian timber leaving their shores.

Last week, inspectors from IBAMA (the agency with responsibility for regulating the timber industry), carried out an impromptu check of timber cargo ships at the Brazilian Port of Santarem.

Worryingly, Brazilian customs had already given the green light and the ship was preparing to leave. That is until IBAMA officials discovered that documents for the cargo on the BSLE Express contained false information about the species of timber onboard. This is just one of the ways timber companies try to 'legalise' timber that has been illegally logged or processed.

The companies connected with the shipment were slapped with fines totaling over 100,000 Euros.

It's the first time in two years that the Brazilian authorities have taken this sort of action, and it follows Greenpeace's recent blockade at the French port of Caen

You might remember that a few weeks ago we stopped the cargo ship, the Galina III, from entering that port. The ship was carrying timber that had come from companies involved in illegal operations in the Amazon, and which was to be sold in Europe.

Even though Europe imports a huge amount of timber from the Amazon no one is required to check whether it comes from companies involved in illegal activities. We wanted to highlight this. The EU is always saying that it is leading the world in the fight against climate change, yet here they are inadvertently fuelling deforestation in the Amazon by allowing illegally logged timber to be sold in Europe.

This irony wasn't lost on the French government. It issued a statement calling on the European Commission to tighten up the law so that all timber sold in the Europe comes from legal sources and well managed forests. The French Environment Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo also got in touch with his Brazilian counterpart to work out what else could be done to tackle the problem.

Why is the French government so worried? Because it knows that unless deforestation in regions like the Amazon is stopped we will have little hope of preventing the worst effects of climate change. Tropical deforestation is responsible for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than the world's entire transport sector.

And thanks to companies slashing and burning the rainforest in order to make a quick profit, the rate of deforestation and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, are actually increasing. Brazil is now the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the US, China and Indonesia.

Rogue companies operating illegally are driving much of this devastation. Greenpeace's report - ' A Future for Forests' estimates that up to 80 percent of the timber from the Amazon rainforest is illegally logged. And, it isn't just the environmental impact of these companies' activities that is worrying. Illegal logging encourages land grabbing by farmers and speculators, and fuels corruption and violence.

That's why we need to see more of the same from IBAMA alongside action by the EU to tighten up checks on timber imports. The prospect of more stringent EU regulation is looking promising. In response to Greenpeace's blockade in Caen, the President Sarkozy said he would look at what could be done when France takes over the EU Presidency this Summer.