Mountains of Illegal Timber

Feature story - March 29, 2006
Imagine a mountain of fallen trees twice the size of Mt. Everest. That's how many trees are being lost every year to supply China's increasing demand for wood.

We've just released a report called Sharing the Blame, which shows that in the past 10 years, timber imports into China have increased by an enormous 4.5 fold. This huge volume of timber imports isn't the whole picture, because China's timber exports have also increased by 3.5 fold in the same time period.

While demand for timber products has risen sharply in China, the demand in the world's big industrial economies has remained at an all time high. China has become the clearinghouse for the world's timber with every second tropical tree traded in the world being sent to China. Unfortunately, many of these trees have been illegally logged.

Between 76 to 90 percent of the logging in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea is illegal, and is shipped to China to be processed into plywood, furniture or paper and exported to wood-hungry nations in North America, Europe, Japan, and South Korea.

Sharing the Blame isn't only about the frightening statistics of the global timber trade; it follows the illegally logged timber from the forest to the finished products in the shops and names the companies behind the illicit trade.

After being contacted by Greenpeace and presented with the evidence, some international timber buyers have already started to address the issue of purchasing timber products made from illegal logging. A number of companies in Europe have made a commitment to stop buying Chinese plywood made from illegally logged timber from Papua New Guinea.

The Chinese government has also started to publicly acknowledge that consumption issues have to be tackled in China. In recognition of this problem, in late March of this year, the government imposed a 5 percent consumption tax on disposable chopsticks and hardwood flooring to try to stem the tide of forest destruction.

Even though this is a good start, the fact that so many companies internationally have been purchasing illegal timber products without knowing or caring shows that governments of the world have to get tough with the illegal logging trade and ban imports of illegal timber products.

The responsibility for ending the over-exploitation of the world's last forests is shared equally between producer and consumer countries. The developed industrial economies of North America, Europe, Japan and South Korea need to dramatically reduce their consumption of timber products and China needs to find a way to develop its economy without simply following the poor example of the timber gluttons.

After all the numbers are added up and put into neat rows and columns of figures, it is easy to forget that what statistics don't show: people's lives and the lives of the plants and animals of the forests. And if you put everything back together, all the pieces combine to equal a couple of Mt. Everests of ancient forest disappearing before our eyes.

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