Congo shows Europe how to protect forests, with laws

Feature story - November 3, 2005
For centuries fortune seekers have plundered the huge rainforest of the Congo basin in the heart of Africa, the second-largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon. Ivory, diamonds and gold have been taken and shipped to the centres of old empires and now finally, the forest itself is being torn down and sent on the same journey.

Forest on the banks of the Congo river system, Equatorial province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Greenpeace fact finding tour aimed at documenting the social and environmental impacts of industrial logging.

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In 2002, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared a moratorium on new loggingconcessions in an attempt to halt the widespread destruction. It didn'twork, in part due to corruption and the continued flood of illegaltimber flowing into consumer countries because there are still no lawsprohibiting their importation.

Unsurprisingly, the trade in illegal timber does little to reduce thepoverty in producer countries. The World Bank estimates that illegallogging costs timber-producing countries between US$10 and15 billion ayear in lost revenue with this money only fuelling the profit marginsof logging companies and their local allies.

Legality of current logging to be examined

This week, the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila signed a decree thatupholds the 2002 moratorium, freezing new logging concessions in up to40 million hectares of rainforest while the legality of all currentlogging concessions are examined. Without international assistance toremove corrupt and illegal logging companies from the Congoleseforestry sector and laws prohibiting the importation of illegal timberinto consumer countries however, this decree might not be enough.

The consumer countries of Europe, Japan and the US have been slow tocreate the laws that would support the efforts of producer countrieslike the DRC. As they wash their hands of any responsibility as thepurchasers of the illegal timber, the last ancient forests in Africaare wiped off the map.

"Until now, the logging industry has been a law unto itself, destroyingthe rainforest to supply wood to Europe, Asia and the USA. This decreeis an important first step towards responsible and socially just forestmanagement, but this will only be achieved in this post-conflictcountry with assistance from the international community," said FilipVerbelen, Greenpeace International forest campaigner.

Illegal timber flowing freely into consumer countries

In the last month, we have highlighted the ease at which illegal anddestructively logged timber enters the consumer countries. In Italy itwas illegal timber from Africa being unloaded in the port of Livorno. Spain had illegal timber from the Amazon in its prized Queen SofiaMuseum and the UK was caught red-handed with plywood made from illegaltimber from the Paradise forests of Papua New Guinea.

Time and time again the answer to halting the destruction of the lastancient forests has been clear. Laws prohibiting the importation ofillegal and destructively logged timber into consumer countries are thefirst step to stemming the tide of destruction in the last of ourancient forests.

The DRC is trying to halt the destruction and protect its forests andthe people and wildlife that depend on them. It is time for Europe,Japan and the US to follow the lead and enact laws to help protect thelast ancient forests.

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