FSC addresses Congo Basin intact forest landscape concerns

FSC Africa Deputy Regional Director Steve Ball has responded to concerns of Congo Basin forest and timber companies that FSC rules stipulating protection of 50% of intact forest landscapes (IFLs) in certified concessions can threaten their commercial viability.  He has laid out how current rules can operate flexibly in the interests of environment and business and also highlights that other options will be discussed at the 2021 FSC General Assembly.

The FSC Congo Basin Regional Working Group (RWG) on High Conservation Values recommended that, to ensure the success of forest businesses, a 20% minimum threshold for protection of IFLs in concessions should operate in the area. A study commissioned by FSC from Form International into the economic, social and environmental impacts of its IFL rules in the region, which was accepted by FSC this year, subsequently provided support for the recommendation. Despite the study findings, Mr Ball said that the 20% threshold did not meet FSC IFL requirements as currently framed, which were laid down in its motion 2014/65.

However there were ‘two avenues under which a lower threshold [than 50%] could be incorporated into FSC national standards’. “The first is if the membership passes an amendment to M2014/65 at a future FSC General Assembly (GA) and the various motions proposed for discussion at the GA2021, on which FSC is committed to high quality, informed debate, suggest some possible alternate solutions,” he said.

Secondly, he added, M2014/65 does not specify that the requirement “to protect the vast majorities of IFLs” must be wholly achieved through FSC-certified concessions. “If it can be shown that those IFLs exist within a  well-managed landscape incorporating official government protected areas, in which the intactness of large areas of IFLs are effectively maintained, then it may be possible to set a lower minimum protection threshold within FSC-certified concessions in which IFLs extend into government protected areas,” said Mr Ball.  Currently, he pointed out, IFL mapping in Gabon is being refined to see how this applies to concessions there, which, for some, may lead to ‘significant changes’.  “If the results are helpful, FSC will endeavour to support similar exercises in other countries of the Congo Basin,” said Mr Ball.

He also explained that, as they currently stand, FSC rules do not require a minimum percentage of IFLs to be protected in addition to other conservation zones concession managers have ‘delimited’. “Neither do the rules require that a percentage of the whole concession be protected,” he said. “The rules as adopted in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo (and shortly to be adopted for Gabon) require 50% of IFLs falling within the concession be protected. If only 10% of a concession is IFL, then that would mean only 5% of the concession would be affected. Furthermore, if existing conservation zones partly or fully overlap with IFLs, then some or all of the IFL protection obligation will already have been delivered.”

Mr Ball also apologized for ‘poor guidance’ issued earlier by  the FSC issued to the Congo Basin RWG. FSC rules also require that standard development groups (SDGs) develop national standards with ‘vast majorities of IFLs’ protected in ‘core areas’ and that, unless they reflect this requirements, a default applies where ‘the core area’ comprises at least 80% of the IFL. The FSC’s clarification stated that the term ‘vast majorities’ meant at least 50% of IFLs in concessions needed to be protected in core areas. “We at FSC acknowledge that better guidance should have been issued to the Congo Basin RWG around the ‘vast majority’ requirement, and apologize for the upset caused by our failure in this case,” he said.

Report: Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data

If the EU27+UK would source 100% verified sustainable tropical timber products, it would positively impact over 18 mill ha semi and natural tropical forests and reduce CO2 emissions by at least 100 million metric tons. These are the main findings of our latest market data report developed with the Global Timber Forum and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, breaking new ground regarding secondary timber products ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’ 

With COVID-19 crippling economies and trade across the globe it has never been more important to halt illegal deforestation and fuel the growth of verified sustainable tropical timber. This is a fragile time for the world’s ecosystems, and ensuring that they can continue to thrive, support local communities, and provide sustainable economic benefits is paramount. We release ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’ in the hopes of guiding all actors in the tropical wood value chain towards more sustainable production and trade.

The report explores Europe’s impact on tropical forests as a result of secondary tropical wood imports (doors, moldings, other joinery, and windows). It builds on our 2019 report that analyzed the primary tropical wood sector, and reveals the way that these two aspects of the tropical timber trade impact tropical forests. Volumes of the selected secondary tropical wood product imports (187,500 tonnes in 2019) are significantly less than primary tropical wood (2,300,000 tonnes in 2018), but the impacts are still meaningful.

The results show that secondary timber largely mirrors primary timber – in 2019, 33% of Europe’s direct imports of the analyzed secondary tropical wood products from ITTO producer countries were exposed to certification (compared to 28.5% of primary timber in 2018). This level of exposure to certification positively impacts at least 763,000–925,000 hectares of tropical forests.

Ramping up demand for SFM-certified products to 100% of imports would impact an additional 1,160,000–1,322,000 hectares of semi- and natural tropical forests. Combined with primary timber, shifting Europe’s demand to certified sustainable products could impact 18 million hectares.

The new data shows that the current demand of Europe for certified tropical timber primary and secondary products reduces CO2 emissions per year by between 18.9 and 29.2 million metric tons. An EU27 and UK market using only sustainable tropical timber products might reduce emissions by at least 100 million metric tons. These figures illustrate the necessity of a new way forward, and demand action by all actors in this sector to grow demand for tropical timber, explore novel applications, and support producing countries in shifting production practices.

STTC Conference examines sustainable tropical timber’s role in green recovery

The focus of the online 2020 Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition’s Conference on November 19 will be the need to seize the opportunity of post-pandemic reconstruction to establish a greener economic model.  

Specifically, the Conference will examine how driving the uptake of certified sustainable tropical forest management by growing the market for sustainable tropical timber can and must be part of the process of green recovery and building a circular bioeconomy. The title of the event is ‘Holding the line: roots for green recovery’.

The circular bioeconomy will be a core theme and the subject of presentations and panel discussion. Speakers will address how the model works, its goals and the place of the timber sector, notably the tropical timber sector, in a bioeconomic future. They include Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry, who is responsible for implementing the government ruling that all forest concessions in the country must be certified sustainable by 2022. And Hugo Schally, Head of Sustainable production, products and consumption, DG Environment who is coordinating and developing the European Commission’s work on the links between trade and environment as well as on deforestation and forest degradation.

Also speaking is circular bioeconomy expert Jeroen Nagel of the Netherlands infrastructure agency Rijkswaterstaat. Joining them on the panel will be John Williams of environmental science, research, engineering and technical solutions provider RSK and Maria Smith, Director of sustainability and physics at Buro Happold.

The Conference will also explore how the tropical timber sector has tackled the Covid- 19 challenge on the ground. There will be input from INTERHOLCO, which manages over 1 million ha of certified forest in the Republic of the Congo (RoC), and Belgian-based international timber trader Vandecasteele Houtimport. Tropical timber companies have been highly proactive in implementing Covid-19 prevention and treatment strategies, with another RoC-based operation commenting that the pandemic had ‘underlined the importance of investing in health as part of sustainable ecosystem management’.

Following a break and networking, the subject will be innovation in forest and chain of custody certification and its importance for bioeconomic development. Speakers will include Iwan Kurniawan of The Borneo Initiative and Liesbeth Gort of FSC Netherlands.

The role of the STTC itself going forward in supporting certified sustainable tropical timber market growth will be addressed by Chih-Ching Lan of IDH-The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Closing, Lee White will issue a ‘call for action’, urging the sustainable tropical timber sector to play its part and maximise its opportunities for development as the world moves to a new bioeconomic model.

Targeted at a broad audience, from STTC partners and participants, through timber traders and federations, to concession holders, NGOs and policy makers, the Conference will be moderated by Peter Woodward. The platform opens on November 19 at 8.30 a.m. CET and the event will close around 1 p.m. To register click here.

ATIBT urges action on illegal timber comeback in Europe

The ATIBT is urging government and trade in Europe to step up efforts to tackle an increase in illegal timber imports.  Currently, it maintains, the EU Competent Authorities (CAs) with responsibility for monitoring and policing imports are under-resourced and lack knowledge of the trade.

In its call to action, ATIBT takes a new stand against the illegal timber trade, the organisation says that ‘import of illegal wood into Europe is suddenly making a comeback’. “This is causing serious damage to an industry that has been striving for two decades to make progress towards sustainable management and promotion of legal and certified timber,” it says. “We need to be careful, because we’re witnessing a step backwards that is endangering our sector.” The ATIBT maintains that those involved in the illegal trade are widely known and said that its marketing commission highlighted the need for a crackdown in 2019. “But to date, there is nothing to indicate that measures are being taken at the European authority level to stop the  actions of companies that we all know,” it says. “In particular we need to work more closely with customs and ports and raise their awareness regarding this menace.”

The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) is described as a key tool in the fight against the illegal trade. But the ATIBT maintains that enforcement is not sufficient to ‘counter the excesses of some of these players, which operate illegally with impunity’. “The EUTR monitoring system does not work due to lack of resources and knowledge about our sector,” it states. The illegal trade, it adds, causes deforestation and forest degradation and constitutes unfair competition for certified logging companies. It also damages the market image of the trade as a whole.

The ATIBT says that it and timber trade federations ‘cannot act beyond our prerogatives’ and create a ‘black list’ of those involved in the  illegal trade. It constitutes large-scale organised crime and is thus the responsibility of the EU and Interpol. However, it says that the legitimate trade can play a role by expressing its views on the issue and only buying legally and/or sustainably certified timber.
“It is through certification systems that imports will be 100% reliable and ensure the future of our profession,” it states.

It calls on European CAs to strengthen monitoring and to target known illegal timber importers. “We all know the fight against illegality is an effective way to reduce deforestation,” it states. “Even if this trade affects only a small share of imports, it needs to be eradicated.”

ISEAL and Gold Standard collaborate on carbon assurance

ISEAL, the international association for sustainability standards, has entered a collaboration with Gold Standard, the organisation dedicated to ensuring the wider environmental integrity of carbon impact reducing projects. The goal is to provide companies with a means of demonstrating that certified products, including timber, are not just sustainable, but also that their supply is geared to minimising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The mission of Gold Standard, which was created in 2003 by the WWF and other NGOs, is to ‘catalyse more ambitious climate action to achieve global goals through robust standards  and verified impacts’. Its partnership with ISEAL , of which the FSC is a member and PEFC a subscriber, will see development of guidance and systems for companies to consistently quantify emission reductions achieved  through ‘supply chain interventions’, so they can be reported in their  GHG inventories.

“The growing urgency of the climate emergency has led to increased demand for credible guidance to support corporations’ transition towards net-zero carbon emissions,” states ISEAL. “For companies, the largest sources of emissions are often linked to supply chains and accounting for them can be challenging. Large emissions sources may lie far upstream in deep and complex supply chains, leading to obstacles to data availability, quality and traceability. This innovation [in partnership with Gold Standard] would allow companies sourcing certified products to better achieve emissions targets, while enhancing the value of commodity certification. Thus the benefits of a climate intervention can be transferred along certified supply chains from landscape to purchasers and investors.”

It added that founding the system at landscape level in supplier countries and regions was key. “Emissions of many of the world’s major commodities are calculated using a ‘supply shed’ approach [whereby suppliers in a given area are grouped in a ‘shed’], with values linked to specific regions. The [new] project will explore how supply-shed boundaries can be set at a landscape level, allowing for standardised landscape emission calculations,” states ISEAL. “[It will] support the value, allocation and transferability of emissions factors linked to certified commodities sourced from a given landscape, with attributes reportable in line with leading corporate reporting protocols.” It added that the approach could also ‘drive large-scale collective action for landscape-level funding’.

The guidance developed by the Gold Standard/ISEAL partnership will be tested by ISEAL members and corporate partners, with results shared via an online community platform.

“We intend to start the piloting phase in April 2021 and this should last until the end of the year when we will report our findings,” said Gold Standard Programme Manager Matthew Thomas. “During the programme we will be consulting with participants on the draft guidance and launching a public consultation at COP26.”

For more information: Matthew.Thomas@goldstandard.org.


Broadening horizons for tropical timber

The outcome of ten years of civil engineering application testing of a range of certified lesser used sustainable tropical hardwoods at a marina facility in the Netherlands will be released soon.

The evaluation forms part of a continuing programme to performance test tropical species in order to widen their application and increase the range of lesser used species (LUS) in the European market.  Funding is from FSC Netherlands and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, with financial contributions from Van Swaay Harlingen BV, GWW Houtimport BV and Precious Woods Europe BV who also provided part of the timber in 2009.

The assessment was undertaken by the Stichting Hout Research (SHR, a testing and knowledge institute for o.a. timber) at the Houtexpo duurzame waterbouw site (Sustainable wood for waterways expo) in Akkrum. The latter was established in 2009 and forms part of a working marina, so the material is effectively tested in real life situations.

Some of the timber has been evaluated in water contact, with a view to use in such applications as pile planking, with other types tested in different forms, such as decking and beams.  A particular focus was to test the various hardwoods in applications where they are currently not generally used.

Among the more than 20 species involved in the project, which also included some temperate varieties, are Muiracatiara, Sapupira, Angelim da Campina, Fava Amargoza, Acariquar, Gindya udu (Tanimbuca) and Manbarklak.

SHR undertook field evaluation of the timber in situ at the Houtexpo, comprising visual inspection and strength and resistance testing, followed by testing of samples at its laboratory.

Read more in the SHR report

Backing tropical timber products’ with EPDs

The ATIBT, in association with member companies, has initiated a project to develop Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Environmental and Health Declaration Sheets (FDES) for construction products in African tropical timber. Called Dryades and backed by private and public sectors, the aim is to improve products’ commercial prospects in an international market increasingly focused on environmental impact and performance.

The initiative is being funded by the PPECF-COMIFAC programme, which backs forest certification in the Congo Basin, and ATIBT members Pallisco, Precious Woods, CIB-Olam, IFO-Interholco and French timber trade federation Le Commerce du Bois. ATIBT General Manager Benoît Jobbé-Duval said Dryades had been prompted by growing government requirement across Europe for evidence of construction products’ environmental credentials. “In the particular case of France, when building product marketing includes environmental performance communication, manufacturers are required to issue an EPD. This gives the product’s complete environmental profile, based principally on life cycle analysis (LCA),” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

He added that, under France’s new environmental regulation RE2020, part of its strategy to ‘decarbonize construction’, the sector will also have to detail the environmental impact of new buildings throughout their life and present the data in FDESs. “Likewise, at European level, as part of the strengthening of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), the European Commission has drawn up a draft delegated act to make environmental declarations compulsory within the framework of the CE (European quality assurance) marking of construction products,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

The aim of Dryades is to help suppliers in Cameroon, Gabon and Republic of the Congo put a range of construction products through LCA, including flooring, windows, doors and other joinery, leading to generation of EPDs and FDESs. The arrangement is yet to be finalised, but it is hoped that it will also be able to draw on the tropical timber LCA expertise and experience of Netherlands timber market development operation Centrum Hout – a potential collaboration discussed at the 2019 STTC annual conference.

The project is set to get underway later this year and to deliver its first EPDs and FDESs by June 2021. “Even if it starts for the French market and there are small differences between European regulations, we’d ultimately like Dryades to cover the needs of construction at European level,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “Beyond LCB, a contribution from European federations is possible to extend the benefits of the project to other countries.”


LCAs and EPDs on sheet piling, pile planking, road safety barriers, decking and bicylce bridges can already be found on the STTC website.


Fair&Precious reflects on achievements and future

Fair&Precious is holding a special event to mark its achievements over its first three years and to discuss the work it still has to do to grow the market for certified sustainable tropical timber. The celebration takes place on November 4 at the ATIBT’s base in the Pavilion Indochina in the Paris Tropical Gardens.

It will follow on from the third ATIBT Think Tank on November 2 and 3, which will look at latest developments and future prospects in certification in the Congo Basin, with input from representatives of supplier countries. The ATIBT is expecting an audience of 50 to 60, with some delegates taking part remotely.

According to ATIBT General Manager Benoît Jobbé-Duval, Fair&Precious (F&P) has already made significant progress in raising awareness of the value of using certified tropical timber and the importance of a viable market for it in supporting sustainable, socially responsible forest management. “Fair&Precious has generated numerous articles for European media and built a presence in social networks,” he said. “We have also developed our joint co-operative strategy with the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition, which is important for us, and received numerous testimonials from certified companies.”

There is still progress to be made, he added. “Above all, we would like the F&P brand to really boost the consumption of certified tropical wood in Europe, in a verifiable and objective manner,” he said. “Supported by other sources of information, we want it to convey the benefits of tropical timber certification to European processors and consumers.”

The celebration will link with the content of the ATIBT Think Tank. Its themes will include exploring new markets for tropical timber, the latter’s image, restoring value to rainforests and supporting certification and environmental services to enhance the work of certified concessions.  It will also focus on collaboration with Asian stakeholders to increase uptake of sustainable tropical forest management.

For more information: info@atibt.org

Or go to the Fair&Precious website


Forests and timber central to green recovery

Combating deforestation and ensuring sustainable supply of forest products are key to achieving the objective of the new European Green Recovery Alliance (GRA): a lower environmental impact, post-pandemic economy. This is the view  of the FSC, which has joined the GRA, along with 180 representatives of businesses, industry associations, unions, government and NGOs, including IKEA, the WWF, the European Woodworking Industries Confederation (CEI-Bois) and Confederation of European Paper Industries (Cepi).

The GRA’s slogan is ‘Reboot and reboost our economies for a sustainable future’.  It sees post pandemic economic recovery as an opportunity to rethink society and develop a ‘more resilient, protective and inclusive model of prosperity’. “All these requirements lie in an economy built around green principles,” says the GRA’s launch statement. To achieve this goal, it calls for recovery investment packages that accelerate transition to climate neutrality and healthy ecosystems. It commends national zero carbon development initiatives as the way forward, and also the European Green Deal, which targets net zero EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, biodiversity restoration and deforestation-free value chains.

Chief executive Kim Carstensen said the FSC was eager to support the GRA by providing knowledge, tools and expertise to accelerate the transition to a sustainable green recovery. “In this context, FSC is an effective solution to meet increasing demand for sustainable forest products, while preventing deforestation and adding economic, environmental and social value to forests and the people who depend on them,” he said.

The FSC could contribute to GRA goals by:

  • Setting sustainable forest management standards as a cost effective way to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity
  • Using its system to enable thriving deforestation-free supply chains
  • Fostering certified renewable materials as a foundation for the circular bioeconomy
  • Accelerating EU sustainable finance policies
  • Demonstrating the impact of forest management on climate, biodiversity, water management and more.

Mr Carstensen added that the pandemic has heightened awareness of the dangers of deforestation and illegal wildlife trade. “In fact, when forests are destroyed and wild animals traded, the risk of spreading zoonotic viruses [which jump from other species to humans] can increase,” he said.

The opportunities and role for the sustainable tropical timber sector in building a new post-pandemic economic model will be the topic of this year’s STTC Conference, ‘Holding the line and moving forward – roots for green recovery’. The event takes place online on November 19.


Applying science to track timber

A straightforward new guide on scientific methods of timber identification and what they can be used for has been published by the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN). German government funded and coordinated by the European Forest Institute, with technical support from Germany’s Thünen Institute, the GTTN’s aim is to help combat illegal logging and related timber trade by ‘operationalization of innovative tools for wood identification and origin determination’.

The new guide, available for download from the GTTN website, is titled Scientific methods for taxonomic and origin identification of timber and came out in July.  It is targeted at authorities, traders, importers and other timber sector stakeholders. It also includes international contact listings for laboratories undertaking timber identification using the various methods, which is searchable by type of analysis and location.

The guide provides brief descriptions of the identification approaches. These comprise:

  • macroscopic or microscopic wood anatomy identification, which looks at the material’s anatomical features
  • direct analysis in real time time-of-flight mass spectrometry (DART TOFMS), which focuses on wood chemical composition
  • near infra-red spectroscopy (NIR spectroscopy), which looks at the wood’s  surface characteristics and chemical composition
  • stable isotope analysis
  • and genetic identification.

Using infographics, the guide explains which methods can be used for identifying  species,    family/genus and species group, country and area of harvest and individual trees.

It also says which are suited for use with different materials; solid wood, including raw wood, veneer, plywood, and ‘other manufactured solid wood’, charcoal, particleboard,pulp, paper and fibreboard.

Currently, it states, DART TOFMS is only reliable for species identification, while analysis of stable isotopes, which are linked to environmental conditions, is limited to ascertaining origins of samples and is not a method for identifying species.

Genetic analysis can be used to identify species, origin and individual tree, although is dependent on the compilation of a sufficiently large and diversified genetic data base for reference.

The suitability of various methods, says the guide, is also dependent on the size of sample that can be tested.