ATIBT committed to maintaining certified tropical timber’s market momentum

Photo: CIFOR

Environmental certification in the tropics faces challenges, but is a key instrument in combating deforestation and safeguarding the forest’s wealth of biodiversity and its role in mitigating human-made global warming. In fact, as our understanding of the impacts and urgency of the climate crisis grows, the significance of certification is set to increase.

That is the view of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) and why it is committed to continue supporting forest operations through the certification process and to growing the market for the resulting certified tropical timber and wood products. “Conservation is an essential ally in the fight against deforestation,” said ATIBT Managing Director Benoît Jobbé-Duval. “But it’s through a genuine legal, sustainable and certified forestry economy that we will incentivise forest maintenance and achieve our goals in climate mitigation and habitat and biodiversity preservation.”

In ATIBT’s key focus area of the Congo Basin, 18% of the near 52 million ha of production forests is under certified sustainable forest management (SFM) or legality certification. Due to a range of factors, the advance of certification has slowed and to help overcome the obstacles, ATIBT is supporting a key programme of the Programme for the Promotion of Certified Forest Operations (PPECF). This involves establishment of specialists within forest sector professional unions to coach businesses step-wise towards certification. Another ATIBT objective is to develop and promote synergies between the certification process and the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade initiative (FLEGT). “Through joint action with local stakeholders, we see potential for building links between certification and FLEGT to increase the momentum of both,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “Working with professional associations and business partners, the aim is to improve companies’ legality and traceability performance and competence and to support those which wish to commit to certification through the coaching services mentioned earlier.”

ATIBT also sees its consumer-facing role via its Fair&Precious (F&P) tropical timber marketing initiative as vital. Not only it maintains, is it essential to underpin uptake of certified sustainable forest management with healthy demand for its output, the lack of such a market could increase the temptation to convert forest land to other commercial uses. ATIBT describes F&P as a ‘collective brand’ to promote tropical timber and wood products from sustainably, ethically and legally managed sources. To use it, companies must commit to strictest environmental standards and to developing a ‘humane economy that protects people and nature’. “By encouraging purchase of certified tropical wood among target consumer audiences, it acts to enhance the value of the Congo Basin forest resource and to promote good practices within the tropical wood sector,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

Looking forward, ATIBT highlights the importance of reaching out to a still wider audience to further the cause of tropical forest and timber certification. “It is particularly important to take into account Chinese businesses, which consume over 50% of wood produced in the Congo Basin,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “They are key players in the move towards ever more sustainable procurement and we expect them to become increasingly involved in coming years.”

Interholco wood forest figures win Conversations about climate change competition

Photo: Interholco

Wildlife sculptures in certified tropical hardwood from Interholco are among winners of a UK competition designed to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable forest management and its role in climate change mitigation.

The competition, Conversations about climate change, was run by the UK Timber Trade Federation (TTF). It formed part of its government-funded campaign to highlight the environmental, economic and social impacts of the UK and EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade initiative (FLEGT). Designers were invited to create pieces in timber from supplier countries engaged in FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). Their objective was to inspire conversations about the wide-ranging importance of the forest as a source of livelihoods and biodiversity and, in particular, due to its role in climate regulation. “People respond to objects and design at a different level than to words on a screen or piece of paper,” said TTF FLEGT Communications Executive Lucy Bedry. “Our aim was to use that to help convey the FLEGT story.”

The competition clearly struck a chord among designers, attracting over 100 entries from around the world. “We were thrilled with how far the message reached and the response,” said Ms Bedry. “We had entries from across Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia.“ The miniature wildlife sculptures, called Forest Dwellers, were designed by architect Tom Wilson and comprise a chimpanzee, gorilla, bongo antelope and forest elephant. He used FSC-certified utile, sapele and iroko, all sourced from Interholco’s Republic of the Congo operations via Danzer UK. They were among six winners selected by the judges, who were drawn from the timber trade, construction, design, architecture and retail. Wilson had previously ‘steered clear’ of using tropical timber, but was impressed with what he’d learned about FLEGT through the competition, notably its ‘governmental level and holistic approach to sustainability, both environmental and economic’. “I would now perhaps consider the use of tropical timbers more, provided I could be sure of the provenance and legality of the supply chain,” he said.

The competition winners are all on display in an exhibition at the London Building Centre, which runs until April 23. Due to pandemic lockdown, this has initially had to be online, but it’s hoped that restrictions will be relaxed in time to allow visitors to see it in reality. The goal is also to tour the exhibition in Europe in association with other national timber trade federations. TTF Chief Executive David Hopkins said the competition successfully communicated the core value of the forest and the role sustainable forest management and timber production plays in preserving it. “Tropical forests are often taken advantage of, and forest land is cleared for other uses,” he said. “That is where responsible forest management and timber sourcing become an essential part of the solution; incentivizing forest maintenance to prevent habitat loss and reduce harmful carbon emissions.”

Such was the popularity of the competition that the TTF is planning a second, with the winners’ exhibition timed to coincide with the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November. It is also hoping to construct a timber pavilion in the city at the same time, attended by representatives of FLEGT VPA countries, to highlight the value of a sustainable timber industry, the forest and wood use in climate change mitigation.

The multiple values of tropical forests in a nutshell

Photo: CIFOR

A new fact sheet from Fair&Precious (F&P) provides a quick-read guide to tropical forests – their extent, their environmental and economic value and the vital need for their maintenance through sustainable management.

Tropical forests – the facts and figures’ underlines the key role the world’s 1.8 billion ha of tropical forests play in climate regulation through carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. Their carbon storage potential varies from region to region, but in total the forests of South America, sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and Oceania hold an estimated 247 gigatonnes of carbon. That is nearly five times accumulated annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical forests provide a huge range of ecosystem services, benefiting not just local forest communities, but the human population worldwide. These include provision of food, fresh water, raw materials – including, of course, timber –and medicinal resources.

In recent years the economic value of these services – the forest’s ‘natural capital’ – has been increasingly closely studied and it is now calculated that they are worth an estimated US$2,700 per ha per year. Globally, that adds up to an annual figure of US$4.86 trillion. Despite increasing understanding of the all-round worth of the tropical forest, however, large areas are still lost each year, primarily through conversion to agriculture and building development. It is estimated that the average annual deforestation rate since 1990 has been 0.5% of total tropical forest area, with 80% of that loss concentrated in four countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malaysia. The fact sheet points out that other countries, including Suriname, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Belize, Gabon, Guyana, Bhutan, Zambia and French Guiana, are succeeding in maintaining their forest resources and are categorized as ‘high forest cover and low deforestation’ (HFLD) under the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (REDD+).

The key for the future of the climate, of bio-diversity and for humankind to continue to benefit from the tropical forest’s abundance of ecosystem services, states the fact sheet, is for more of it to come under verified sustainable management. Currently just 6.5% of the total area is certified as sustainably managed under the FSC and PEFC schemes. That needs to increase and one way to incentivize this is to grow the international market for verified sustainable tropical timber. “For example, it is calculated that, if the seven leading European tropical timber-importing countries bought exclusively verified sustainable material, an additional 12.5 million hectares of tropical forest would come under sustainable management to meet that demand,” the F&P fact sheet concludes.

CBG, gombé and wildlife

Photo: Emmanuel Groutel

Compagnie des Bois du Gabon’s (CBG) strategy to further enhance its sustainability performance has recently had a twin focus.

The Port Gentil-based company has been developing the market for the, until now, lesser used tropical hardwood gombé, while also deepening its commitment to a major regional wildlife conservation project in association with the WWF. CBG manages 600,000 ha of FSC-certified forest and produces 150,000 m3 of sawnwood a year. It supplies azobé/ekki for marine civil engineering applications, decking and railway sleepers and bilinga, padouk and niové for decking and decking substructures. It also produces okoumé veneers for French plywood manufacturer Joubert. It added gombé to its range due to the demonstrable sustainability of the resource and after technical evaluation highlighted its suitability for a range of uses. “Gombé occurs across all West African rainforest, from Liberia and Sierra Leone to the Republic of the Congo,” said CBG head of sales development, marketing and communication Emmanuel Groutel. “Greater quantities could be exported with no adverse effect on sustainability.”

On its website (www.cbg-wood.com) the company says gombé is an alternative to sapele, African mahogany and dark red meranti and that its potential applications range from plywood and veneer, to joinery, moulding, staircase, coffin, container and vehicle flooring manufacture. “It has good machining and finishing properties, poses no particular kilning issues, gives good screw and nail retention, and is suited to all the most commonly used glues,” said Dr Groutel. “It can also be peeled and used to make finger-jointed and laminated components.” CBG reports a positive market response to gombé, with customers placing repeat orders after running trials. It is being exported to China, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, France and the UAE and the company sees opportunities for it in the UK as an FSC-certified meranti substitute. Given the combination of abundant supply and demand, it believes it has potential to double current production.

At the same time as developing its sustainable market offer, CBG has been working with the WWF and Gabonese Ministry of Water and Forests (MINEF) on the PROLAB project. This is a wildlife and habitat protection initiative operating over a region known as the Gamba Complex. The aim is to safeguard populations of large mammals, in particular, and to ensure that development in the region doesn’t clash with conservation. CBG operates anti-poaching patrols and is running an ongoing communication programme to raise awareness in local communities of the need to protect wildlife and biodiversity more broadly. It also participates in biomonitoring and compilation of large mammal inventories.

For more information, see www.fair-and-precious.org/en/news/331/cbg-goes-for-gombe.

A key conference year for tropical timber

While the pandemic may effect scheduling and the form they take, 2021 is set to be an important year for international conferences with interest and potential impacts for tropical timber and forestry sectors.

World Forestry Congress

With dates yet to be set after postponement from May, the World Forestry Congress in Seoul will address the state and future of forests globally and efforts to achieve sustainable development goals in the context of recovery from Covid-19. It will look to define the role of forests in the 2030 global development agenda and other policy frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement and Global Forest Goals. It also aims to identify measures needed for the forest sector to contribute to the post-pandemic objective to ‘build back better’.
“Forests must be an integral part of discussions and decisions to be made on sustainable development, because this will determine the health, wellbeing and stability of the planet and the people,” state the organisers.

Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity

The fifteenth meeting of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, China, rescheduled from last October to the second half of 2021, will see adoption of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Billed as a ‘stepping stone towards the 2050 UN Vision of “Living in harmony with nature” ’, the goal is to mainstream biodiversity into national development plans worldwide. The draft framework sets out five long-term biodiversity goals for 2050 and 20 targets to achieve by 2030. Among the aims are to reduce extinctions and increase endangered species populations. It also sets a goal for nature to contribute ‘at least [30%] of efforts to achieve targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change’. Deforestation and its related climate impacts will, of course, be central to discussions. How ambitious decisions here will be remain to be seen, with some countries reported to be resistant to forest-related targets that restrict agriculture.

Carrefour International du Bois

The Carrefour International du Bois is scheduled to take place from May 26-28 at the Parc Beaujoire in Nantes, France. The biannual event is billed as Europe’s leading exclusively timber trade exhibition and the last show attracted 11,500 visitors from 85 countries and 563 exhibitors. The STTC and ATIBT/Fair&Precious are set to contribute to the conference programme.

IUCN World Conservation Congress

A core theme of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Marseilles from September 3-11 will also be ‘nature-based climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts’. “The full potential of the world’s natural carbon sinks and reservoirs that can contribute to a climate-resilient and biodiversity-rich future has yet to be unlocked,” states the IUCN. “This will require strengthening institutional and governance capacity for ecosystem planning and management. Policy and decision-making may require trade-offs to optimise benefits for biodiversity, climate change and other relevant sectors.”

UN Climate Change Conference

Among the topics of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow from November 1-12 will be ‘green recovery’; taking the opportunity of reconstruction from pandemic to move to a lower environmental impact global economic model. “While we focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the Coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the challenges of climate change,” said Conference President UK MP Alok Sharma. “The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and wellbeing and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean, resilient recovery.”

In the lead up to the Conference, the COP26 and Tropical Forest Alliance have launched the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogues project. The aim is to accelerate  transition towards more sustainable land use practices and create ‘new opportunities for investment, jobs and livelihoods in forests, land use and agriculture and to ensure economies have a sustainable relationship with forests’. As part of this, multi-stakeholder consultations involving representatives of all parts of the forest and forest products supply chain are convening to feed their views into government to government  meetings. The tropical forest sector is urging that sustainable forest management and sustainable tropical timber production form part of discussions as vital to ensuring forest maintenance.

Sustainability shapes mill investment

Precious Wood’s construction of a new heavy duty tropical timber mill in Gabon and the feasibility study that preceded it underlines its policy to make most sustainable use of the forest resource.

The company’s Gabonese subsidiary CEB manages 600,000 ha of jointly FSC and PEFC-certified forest concession in the country. It harvests areas on a 25-year cycle, and works zones within designated management regions for five years. A detailed inventory of the latest zone to be harvested, near the town of Okondja, found it to be particularly rich in azobé. A feasibility study followed to assess the volumes of timber, comprising principally the azobé, but also other heavy hardwoods found in the area, that could be extracted sustainably, with only trees over 90cm in diameter felled. From this, Precious Woods decided to go ahead with the new plant on CEB’s Bambidie mill site. “From the technical viewpoint, the new mill can handle other species as well, but for the time being it will mostly process azobé due to the high supply from this area,” said Precious Woods’ forest industries technical consultant Markus Pfannkuch.

In another aspect of the project, the company has formed a partnership with Netherlands based importer, processor and tropical timber construction specialist Wijma. It will take all the timber from new plant, process it and market it Europe-wide. The Dutch business said it was attracted to work with Precious Woods’ by its record on sustainable management. It also advised the latter on the construction of the new mill. The plant has capacity to process 17,000m3, with all output jointly FSC and PEFC-certified, and employs 87 people working two shifts. It also forms part of wider development of the Bambidie site, which includes upgrading kilning and storage and construction of new housing for the additional workforce.

Precious Wood’s also highlights that the ultra-durable timber from the new mill is a renewable, low carbon alternative to concrete and steel in ‘high quality, long lasting applications’. So it will be as sustainable in use as in production.

For the full report on the new mill: www.fair-and-precious.org.

Thémis tool tracks European sustainable timber procurement

Thémis, a new data gathering tool and online portal is being developed to enable various European timber trade federations to monitor, benchmark, communicate and so help increase verified sustainable procurement levels.

The project is being led by Netherlands-based international forest and timber sustainability consultant Probos, which has over a decade’s experience of monitoring and reporting on verified sustainable procurement in the Dutch industry and for the Dutch and Belgian governments. It is working on Thémis with the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) and the trade federations of France, Belgium and the UK; Le Commerce du Bois, Fedustria and the UK Timber Trade Federation. Funding is being provided by IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Congo basin Programme for Promotion of Certified Sustainable Forest Management (PPECF), plus the federations themselves. Though the focus of the main donors is on tropical regions, the tool will also cover softwood, temperate hardwoods, panels and some secondary timber products. “Growing the market for responsibly sourced timber”, says Probos Director and Senior Advisor Mark van Benthem, “is key to incentivizing uptake of verified sustainable forest management, in turn supporting maintenance of the forest and its critical climate stabilising role.”

Some European timber trade federations (TTFs) have already implemented responsible timber procurement policies (TPPs) for members. But it’s generally acknowledged that these need to target continued growth in levels of responsible timber purchasing and also that other federations need to follow suit to increase positive impact on the forest. Facilitating sustainable procurement data gathering and monitoring, says Probos, can assist ongoing enhancement of existing TPPs and encourage adoption by organisations which don’t yet have them. “By reporting procurement data, TTF members create transparency and can monitor progress and target interventions,” says Mr van Benthem.

Probos points out that since procurement data monitoring and annual reporting was introduced for members of the Netherlands Timber Trade Federation in 2010, the proportion of their imports backed by verified sustainable forest management chain of custody has risen from 71% to 92% by volume in 2019. Within this figure, the percentage for softwood has risen from 88% to 99%, wood sheet materials 64% to 96% and hardwood 31% to 62%.

It’s difficult to show precise cause and effect between data reporting, setting targets and this growth in sustainable procurement. But Probos maintains that the process can increase companies’ focus on the latter, enable them to compare performance with peers’ or the industry average, identify room for improvement and develop strategies for achieving it. Monitoring responsible sourcing also has added value for those involved, it says.

“Companies get insight into development of this part of their corporate social responsibility performance and how it relates to performance of competitors and the sector as a whole. Where they are performing well, they can communicate the fact and be highlighted as ‘distinguished traders’ on platforms such as www.mytropicaltimber.org,” said Mr van Benthem. “The data also gives TTFs a better view on members’ CSR performance, helps target interventions, distinguishes them from non-TTF members and adds value to membership. If it shows a high percentage of imports coming from well-managed forests, it helps positively brand the sector and timber generally.” He added that governments and donors targeting reduced imported deforestation are also keen to monitor responsibly sourced product consumption.

The data gathering tool is designed to be easy to use and enables companies to detail imports by product type covered by certification schemes, regulatory systems (e.g. FLEGT) and legality verification schemes. Frequency of data gathering and reporting, how the process is audited, and the results analysed, will be down to the TTFs implementing the tool and their members.

Dutch government backs STIP, but certification schemes express doubts

Advice from the Netherlands Timber Procurement Assessment Committee (TPAC) that the STIP sustainable timber certification scheme meets Dutch government timber procurement rules has been accepted by the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management. However, the scheme has met with criticism from the PEFC and FSC.

STIP was developed by Dutch timber research institute Stichting Hout Research (SHR) and launched in 2017. It guarantees that accredited suppliers sell exclusively timber from sustainable sources that meet the Dutch Procurement Criteria for Timber, such as PEFC or FSC-certified forests. At the launch of the scheme, SHR Director Oscar van Doorn said STIP aligned with the objectives of the Netherlands’ multi-sector-backed Green Deal and Wood Covenant to make sustainably certified timber the market norm and to remove logistical barriers to its use. “It’s a breakthrough,” he said. “Removing uncertainties about mixing woods with different chain of custody (CoC) certificates and facilitating achievement of the broad-based goal that 100% of timber is from responsibly managed forestry.”

From its assessment of STIP, TPAC judged that the scheme meets Dutch government purchasing policy requirements for chain of custody, Development, Application and Management of Certification Systems and also for product claims ‘in many respects in a similar way to FSC and PEFC’. It subsequently advised the Dutch State Secretary to accept STIP certification under procurement policy and she has now taken this advice.

However, the PEFC and FSC have both raised concerns that STIP may ultimately adversely impact forest management timber sustainability certification. PEFC Netherlands chair Maarten Willemen states that, while it may simplify business for companies by offering a mechanism for them to mix PEFC and FSC material, this benefit would be ‘very short-lived’.

“STIP can only exist because it takes the outcome of the core work of PEFC and FSC – sustainably managed forests from which certified timber is sourced – and provides it to companies under a different label,” said Mr Willemen. “STIP removes the ability of PEFC and FSC to spread the burden of financing forest certification among all actors along the timber value chain, eventually burdening forests owners with the entire costs. If STIP became mainstream, it would ultimately lead to the demise of PEFC and FSC and consequently STIP itself.”

FSC Netherlands said, like the PEFC, it endorsed the ambition of STIP, that all timber on the Dutch market should be from verified responsibly managed forest. Both also commended STIP certificate holders in their efforts to purchase and use only sustainable timber. However, the FSC also shared the view of the PEFC that it potentially undermined the capacity of certification schemes to spread their costs along the supply chain, and also said it did not fulfil the role of a certification scheme itself.

“The FSC and PEFC certification schemes invest a lot in forests to prevent deforestation, to protect ecological valuable areas, to improve working conditions, indigenous people’s rights and biodiversity. These investments are done, among others, with the fee contributed by chain of custody certified companies worldwide to these schemes. Since there is a clear relation between their standards for responsible forest management and chain of custody, they support the Dutch government’s ambitions to procure sustainable timber and to promote sustainable forest management,” commented FSC Netherlands Director Liesbeth Gort in the TPAC Stakeholder Forum on STIP. “Initiatives like STIP facilitate companies at the end of the chain of custody, but make no direct effort to provide standards for, or improve sustainable forest management. [Therefore] it should not be considered as a certification scheme as defined by the Dutch Government.”

A spokesperson for STIP said that it only commends what it categorises as ‘standarised timber’, that is material certified under FSC, PEFC or the Dutch Keurhout schemes. They acknowledged that FSC and PEFC raised objections to STIP’s acceptance under Dutch government procurement rules in the TPAC assessment consultation period. “But in the end, STIP proved to be in compliance,” said the spokesperson. “The question of whether it is FSC or PEFC-approved is not relevant.”

They added that government acceptance of STIP certification opened the way for accredited companies to access ‘green finance’, similarly to FSC, PEFC and Keurhout certification, and to use their status and that of their products under BREEAM.

STTC conference explores tropical timber’s bioeconomic role

One focus of the 2020 online Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition Conference was the need to halt tropical forest loss and consequent adverse climatic impacts by growing sustainable tropical timber demand. The associated theme was that, to tackle the environmental crisis more broadly, society globally must switch to a circular bioeconomy.

Post-pandemic economic reconstruction is seen as an opportunity to accelerate bioeconomic transition and, said speakers at the Conference, entitled ‘Holding the line and moving forward: Roots for green recovery’, the sector must present sustainable tropical timber supply as core to achieving it. This could grow the market for the material, so incentivizing uptake of sustainable forest management (SFM) and creating a virtuous circle.

Jeroen Nagel of the Dutch Public Works and Water Management Directorate General told the 150-strong international conference audience that moving to a circular bioeconomy required public-private partnership. An example was the biological highway, a blueprint from his ministry and industry for using sustainable tropical timber for motorway fixtures, such as barriers and signage .

Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry Dr Lee White stressed that tropical wood producers, as well as consumer countries, should adopt a circular bioeconomic approach. This was Gabon’s ambition, exemplified by an industrial zone near Libreville undertaking multi-level timber transformation, with all waste turned into charcoal. Describing the EU’s circular economy action plan and its ‘Green Deal’ goal of deforestation-free supply chains, Hugo-Maria Schally, of the European Commission Directorate General Environment, said both had potential to develop tropical timber use. But this demands total market confidence that forests are sustainably managed and supply chains are transparent.

Maria Smith of consulting engineers Buro Happold looked at the role of timber in achieving a ‘regenerative built environment’ and John Williams of environmental and technical services consultancy RSK at hardwood’s potential in engineered wood building products.

Liesbeth Gort of FSC Netherlands described its initiative for certifying forest ecosystem service provision and Iwan Kurniawan of The Borneo Initiative a proposal to co-audit and so cut costs of third party forest certification and FLEGT/SVLK legality assurance compliance.

Tullia Baldassari of Interholco addressed the social obligations of sustainable tropical timber businesses, describing the pandemic healthcare support for workers and local communities provided by her company in the Republic of Congo. And Geneviève Standaert and Isobelle Polfliet of importers Vandecasteele stressed the need to drive uptake of lesser known tropical species to further strengthen SFM economic viability.

Mark van Benthem of SFM knowledge institute Probos presented its latest data report, commissioned by STTC founder IDH-the Sustainable Trade Initiative. This focuses on the EU secondary tropical wood products market, concluding that if it achieved 100% verified sustainable sourcing, over 2 million ha of tropical forest would be positively impacted.

Looking forward, Chih-Ching Lan of IDH confirmed continuation of its work on tropical timber and support for the STTC post 2020, with a focus on data, sector alignment and public-private partnership. And Dr White concluded the Conference with a call to industry action. “We must work to establish markets where tropical timber has best competitive advantage and persuade the public that sustainable harvesting will preserve rather than destroy the tropical forest,” he said.

Click here for the full Conference report.

Growing secondary wood product demand to support tropical forests

In 2019, 33% of secondary tropical wood products imported by the EU and UK were certified sustainable, positively impacting 763,000-925,000 ha of tropical forest, according to a new report from IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative. If importers sourced 100% certified sustainable, it concludes, this figure would rise to over 2 million ha.

The just-released publication, ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’, covers the four main types of tropical secondary products imported by the EU and UK – doors, mouldings, windows and other joinery. It was commissioned by IDH for the STTC and undertaken by sustainable forest management institute Probos and the Global Timber Forum.

It builds on these partners’ 2019 report, which covered EU and UK primary tropical wood products imports, estimating that 28.5% were certified sustainable. Bringing the findings of the two publications together, the new report states that, if all these countries’ tropical timber imports were certified, 18 million ha of forest would be positively impacted. This, it says, could also cut global carbon emissions by 100 million tonnes per year.

Like the earlier report, it estimates volumes of FSC and PEFC-certified timber imports using the ‘exposure to certification method’. This takes the certified percentage of a supplier country’s total forest area and projects the share onto its exports to consumer countries.

The new report additionally takes account of EU and UK imports of FLEGT-licensed products (from Indonesia, the only country so far to start licensing under the EU FLEGT initiative), from other FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement countries and products covered by other verified legality schemes.

Of the EU and UK’s 187,500 tonne import total of secondary tropical wood products in 2019, 90% were accounted for by France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the UK. The Netherlands was the biggest importer of such products exposed to certification, with a total of between 25,800 and 27,800 tonnes, followed by France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain. Biggest overall suppliers were Indonesia and Brazil, together accounting for 77% of EU and UK imports, while Indonesia was the biggest provider of products exposed to certification, with 76% market share.

The report also draws on findings of an enquiry undertaken by the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) and Probos. With input from companies in Central and West Africa, it compiled data on forest yields, certification and its impacts, and trade flows. The information on yield was used by the IDH report authors to help calculate potential impact of EU and UK demand on sustainable forest management area.

The report concludes that ‘all actors must support raising the bar to 100% sourcing of verified sustainable tropical timber products and promote their applications’. The sector should also work together to further ‘improve availability, quality and transparency of information’ to inform strategies for achieving this objective. Given the goals they have in common to advance SFM, the report also urges exploration of synergies between the EU Timber Regulation, FLEGT licensing and certification.
“A growing European market for sustainable timber can foster sustainable forest practice across the world, and a more resilient and sustainable society and environment globally,” concludes IDH chief executive Daan Wensing. “We urge European governments, companies, and NGOs to act to reach 100% verified sustainable tropical timber imports.”

Read the report