Worldwide, 13 million hectares of forests are disappearing every year. With so many of the world's forests already destroyed, we urgently need to protect what is left.
The EU has adopted new legislation recently to stop imports of illegal timber. Earlier, the US and Australia adopted similar legislation. It's time for China to reduce its footprint on our remaining rainforests.
Much has improved in China's forest policies. The country has actually increased its forest cover over the past decade. But, at the same time, it is importing ever-increasing volumes of commodities that contribute to global forest destruction.
The earth cannot sustain life without healthy forests. They are home to over two-thirds of the world's species. They are the green lungs of the planet, supplying us with oxygen and helping to balance rainfall and the climate. The three largest remaining rainforests of the world are the Amazon, the Congo and the rainforests of Indonesia; all are under siege.
The main drivers of deforestation are different in each. But what they have in common is an increasing focus on China as the main export destination. In the Amazon, expanding cattle fields and soya bean plantations have led to serious deforestation. Seventy per cent of the soya beans produced in Brazil are exported to China, feeding its burgeoning industry of pigs and poultry.
In the Congo, logging for timber has had a devastating impact on forest areas. Most of this logging is illegal. And 40 per cent of the timber exported from the Democratic Republic of Congo reaches Chinese shores.
In Indonesia, the two biggest causes of deforestation are pulp and paper, and palm oil plantations, with nearly half of exports of pulp and paper going to China. China has become the second-largest importer of palm oil worldwide.
Chinese companies and the government can clean up their act. They do not have to participate in deforestation. Companies buying commodities such as palm oil that are often connected to deforestation can demand guarantees from their suppliers about their products. Businesses that source timber products should buy only from forests that are managed ecologically and sustainably. Currently, the trademark "Forest Stewardship Council" provides the best guarantee for wood products that they do not come from forest destruction.
The Chinese government should also take a stand against illegal timber imports. Interpol estimates that up to 30 per cent of the worldwide timber trade is illegal and billions in tax revenues are lost as a result. China now accounts for about half of the worldwide imports of wood products. A major share of these are processed in China into furniture and paper products and then re-exported.
Beijing should put measures in place to stop the trade in illegal timber products. There are already indications that exports of illegal timber are being redirected to China following the moves by the EU, the US and Australia.
But China in turn re-exports many wood products to the EU and the US and some inevitably contain illegal timber.
It is therefore in Chinese companies' best interests to curb illegal timber imports, before valuable export destinations take action.
Countries producing timber are often those that also struggle with poverty and corruption. China can help these countries bring their logging sector under control, collect the lost tax revenues and help save the forests.
After all, when old-growth forest and the species that live in it are lost, they are lost forever.
Kees Kodde is a forest campaign adviser for Greenpeace East Asia.
Image 1: Virunga National Park in DRC © Greenpeace / Jan-Joseph Stok. Image 2: Peatland forest clearance in Kalimantan, Indonesia © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace