The truth about illegal logging

Today Cites delegates have made a bold move to protect endangered rainforests from deforestation. They’ve agreed greater protection for species of rosewood and ebony from South East Asia, South America and Madagascar. By protecting these rare habitats it also protects the many species of endangered animals that make these forests their home. However this doesn’t prevent illegal logging unless the international community acts on these restrictions. In the case of ebony and rosewood the primary market is China. For these restrictions to be effective the Chinese government must act to curb their growing black market in timber.

This is not as easy as you might think. An audit of Ikea’s timber usage revealed that 100% of the timber used for making furniture in China was illegal. On one side of the border in Siberia the trade in timber is controlled by the Russian Mafia, timber from illegal logging being added at all points from logging camps to export yards at the Chinese border. The practices of bribery and intimidation result in legal and illegal timber being indistiguishable from each other at the point of export. On the other side of the border in China the import yards are controlled by the Triad. Many factories cut their costs by buying their timber direct from the Triad, having it stolen from the import yards to order bypassing the import taxes paid by the legitimate timber merchants. In theory when you buy a new chair, wardrobe or table from any furniture supplier you should be able to trace it back using the bar code on the box. That barcode sits on a computer at the supplier’s main office and is tied to an invoice order at the assembly plant. The assembly plant can then tie that up with an order number at the timber importer which goes back to the timber exporter. This timber, usually in the form of cut wood, has a number that will be traced back to the log from which it was sawn, which can then be traced to the tree and the number on the tree can be traced back to the very stump that it was cut from using a GPS tag. But when a 30 foot tree suddenly becomes 300 feet of logs at the sawmill it quickly becomes clear that the wood being used is actually untraceable.

Other companies however have taken very stringent steps to ensure that their wood is legally sourced. From the point of tagging the tree to exporting the finished furniture they have put in place systems that ensure that the amount of wood used in their furniture matches the estimates from the initial felling of the tree. This is how the majority of our hardwood furniture is imported into Europe from Indonesia and Malaysia. By removing the ability for illegal loggers to sell their timber it protects the rainforests, but at the cost of higher prices in the shops in Europe. This is a system being deployed across the world but which is being perverted by one of the main supporters of the system. The US State Department. And the reason is very simple, money. As one of the major shareholders in opening up legal logging schemes in emerging markets the US State Department has actually made it easier to trade in illegal timber.

The prime purpose of the scheme deployed by the US State Department in partnership with the Liberian government is to collect tax. At every stage of the process from issuing logging licenses to export the timber is taxed. You pay a tax to buy the logging concession. You pay a tax to tag your trees with a GPS barcode. You pay a tax to convert the trees to felled lumber. You pay a tax to convert the lumber to logs. You pay a tax to sell the lumber to local markets and a further tax to sell the rest to the export market. At any point where the timber is converted from one form to another a tax is paid on that conversion, a proportion of which is paid back to the US State Department as shareholder. In theory this should prevent any illegal timber from entering the market at any point but for one thing. Under the rules of the scheme agreed between the US State Department and the Liberian government any logs or trees found by civilians in the forests of Liberia, rather than be destroyed, can be deemed legal if taken to the relevant point on the supply chain and taxed. The very fact of selling the timber to the logging yard and paying a fee back to the government has the timber declared legal. This has two effects. Firstly, it ensures that all timber exported from Liberia is legal, potentially the only country worldwide that can claim 100% of their exports are legally sourced. And secondly it creates a thriving black market that knows that all they have to do to sell illegal timber is pay a fee to the Liberian government.

In order to ensure that the planet’s forests are protected it takes a very simple and real step. The world must accept that there is only so much wood that can be harvested per year and accept the higher prices that come with it. Governments around the world must do more to protect natural forest, not just from illegal loggers, but from farmers using weak legislation to expand farmland and from emerging climate companies from converting rich biodiverse rainforest into palm oil plantations. You cannot protect this planet’s forests buy chopping them down. Schemes that can have a very real impact must be implemented with protection as the main goal, and not taxation.

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History of a time forgot

A young boy, almost a teenager plays in the dirt near the barbed wire fence. He’s hungry and underfed, he can’t remember the last time he ate a proper meal.

On the other side of the fence several soldiers laugh and joke with each other. One points to the boy and raises his rifle. Staring down the sights he aims and slowly squeezes the trigger. The bullet is propelled from the barrel, passes the short distance between the soldier and the boy before the boy’s head erupts with a fountain of blood. the boy slumps down on the ground, his blood staining the dirt in an ever growing pool of darkening red. The soldiers clap each other on their backs, congratulating the shooter on his kill. They’ll be telling the story over and over again back in the barracks, knowing that they have the full support not only of the commanders, but of their government for their act. After all, the boy wasn’t one of them, he was someone to be reviled and looked upon as somehow less than human.

The above is a dramatised account of real events. You’d be forgiven if you think you know the circumstances of the above act, surely this happened in Germany and Poland during the 1940’s? And you would of course be correct, we’ve seen this scene before, enacted in countless war movies. Almost this exact scene is a pivotal point in the film Schindler’s List, and becomes one of the many reasons Schindler betrays his own country by helping the Jews in Germany. But these soldiers aren’t German. This isn’t even the 20th Century. It’s 2012. Palestine. It’s the reason so many people have died in Palestine and Israel over the last few weeks.

I keep seeing posts on the web “Why do they hate us?” “What did we ever do to them?” while ignoring the inhumane treatment that is inflicted upon a nation in their name. The answer is simple, the Israeli nation has become the very thing they hated the most. The world will not allow them a final solution, so instead they keep a nation in squalid camps like Ramallah. They take land that has been farmed for generations by Palestinians and then expect the Palestinians to work like slaves on the land that has been taken from them. They do not see them as people, they label them terrorists and bomb them, killing entire families in the name of “security”. They starve them to the point of malnutrition, but not enough that they look unhealthy. It would not do for the rest of the World to see the suffering that they have caused.

Can you imagine the outcry of protest if in 1970 the RAF bombed Belfast? If in our war against the IRA we saw children as legitimate targets? The Palestinians want the same as the Catholics of Northern Ireland. To be treated equally, as human beings. It was the generations of injustice at the hands of the Protestants in Northern Ireland that allowed for the rise of the IRA. While their methods were quite rightly condemned it was the recognition of this injustice that eventually paved the way to peace in Northern Ireland. It was the recognition that treating an entire group of people as terrorists does not work. The great irony in Northern Ireland was the fact that the British troops were there to protect the Catholics, and not the Protestants. It didn’t take long before generations of resentment turned into hatred of the British. It’s no different in Palestine. Only we never did to the Catholics what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. And we found peace in Northern Ireland, by negotiation and talk. Not by missiles and attack helicopters.

Imagine a future where Russia controls Great Britain. As part of their grand experiment they force the majority of England out of their homes and force them to live in camps in Scotland and Wales. They provide you with just enough food to live, but not enough that you don’t know hunger. They cut off power supplies at random so you are cold and can only sleep after darkness as you have no power for the TV or light to read by. Water supplies regularly run dry. Occaisionally you will travel back to work in the factories and farms in England, where you’re paid so little you can only afford to buy enough food to feed your children. And when the inevitable protests start across Glasgow and Cardiff the protesters are shot at close range, despite only being armed with sticks and rocks. Someone finds some fireworks and rigs a makeshift rocket, firing it across the border into Newcastle where it lands in the Tyne, harmlessly. In retaliation the Russians bomb Glasgow, burning hospitals to the ground and killing hundreds if not thousands, many of them women and children. The fact that the killing is indescriminate is deliberate, after all the intention is not to stop the current uprising, but to instill a sense of fear so deep that generations will never contemplate ever rising up again. And ask yourself how would you feel towards your new masters living in what were once your homes in England? Knowing that for fun they will kill whoever they want, whenever they want and the World not only looks away, but applauds them while they do it?

When you know how that feels, then you know what it feels like to live in Palestine. And that is why the Palestinians hate the Israelis. And why Israel will never see peace until it finally comes to terms with what it has done to the Palestinians and agrees to sit down and talk. Because without that, eventually the only option left will be a final solution. And that’s something not even the Israelis can truly want.