Almost all of the logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo is illegal, says a new report by the UK-based think tank, Chatham House. Though the figure of 87% is a startling one, it is not surprising for those of us here at Greenpeace who have been working on forestry issues in the Congo Basin.
We welcome the findings of the study as they underpin and reinforce much of the work we have been doing, along with organisations like Global Witness and local NGOs, to combat what is the “organised chaos” of the DRC’s logging sector.
Of the experts Chatham House interviewed for the study, the bulk said that between 60 and 80 per cent of logging in the country is estimated to be illegal. This is the highest proportion of any of the countries researched.
These specialists also consider illegal logging as the main driver of forest degradation and deforestation – and a whopping 80% of respondents in the Chatham House survey said that it is also a main cause of “negative social impacts” on forest communities.
Sadly none of these eye-catching statistics come as a surprise to me. I have been working in the DRC for more than a decade witnessing illegal and destructive logging first hand. I have seen companies operate with impunity, seen intact forest landscapes destroyed and seen first-hand how it is local residents who pay the largest price.
I have campaigned for a long time with my colleagues throughout Europe on the illegal timber trade and recently, one case led to the confiscation of a batch of illegal endangered Wengé wood in Germany. This is the strongest enforcement so far of the EU’s new Timber Regulation (EUTR) that came into force last year.
The Chatham House report reinforces this work as it provides independent results and analysis that back up our claims. Even though the findings are not surprising, the report is still a worrying read, particularly its conclusions regarding government response.
Stemming the tide of illegal logging requires a strong reaction from government, one that sees investment in both the reform and enforcement of forestry laws via a process that includes multiple stakeholders. Instead, for the DRC, the Chatham House report finds severe deficiencies in all areas of governmental responsibility. Insufficient political will and corruption stand in the way of an improved response, according to the study’s respondents.
The report also provides a warning for timber traders in Europe, as it says “at present, it is unlikely that any of the DRC’s timber production could meet EU due diligence requirements.” One other strong recommendation for the country’s government is to maintain the current moratorium on new industrial logging concessions, something NGOs, Greenpeace among them, have been campaigning on for years.
This last point makes it of all the more concern that the Congolese environment ministry has just published its new national programme called ‘PNEFEB’ (Programme National Environnement, Forêts, Eaux et Biodiversité) in which it says the moratorium will be lifted when all conditions have been met. There is no clear timeline given in the text, but in 2014 there is finance for the measures needed to lift the moratorium and from 2015 onwards there is a significant budget increase forecast. This would see the moratorium lifted and new logging titles be allocated in earnest.
Yet there is no way conditions needed to lift the moratorium could be met any time soon. The sector is totally out of control and the Chatham House report makes that ever more painfully clear.
The DRC’s logging sector is by no means the world’s biggest. But it is linked to some of the highest rates of deforestation in the Congo Basin and is certainly well up there with the most chaotic of industries.
Home to hectare after hectare of the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, it is clear that if that figure of 87 percent does not start to shift downwards anytime soon, then who knows what chaos and sadly startling new statistics may await.
Raoul Monsembula is the country director for the Democratic Republic of Congo with Greenpeace Africa.