Data key to the future of the sustainable tropical timber market

The new STTC and IDH report, ‘Unlocking Sustainable Tropical Timber Market Growth Through Data’, underlines what is at stake in Europe committing to source verified sustainable tropical timber. It contends that, if all 28 EU member states imported 100% verified sustainable primary tropical timber products, it could have a positive impact, in terms of sustainable forest management (SFM) uptake, on around 16 million ha of semi- and natural tropical forests.

The report – unveiled at the STTC Conference and set to become an annual publication – was co-authored by timber and forest sustainability advisors and analysts Probos and the Global Timber Forum. Its premise is that accurate data on market size and trade flows is vital for informing sustainable tropical timber market development and promotion. It maintains that this, in turn, is vital to incentivizing uptake of SFM in tropical countries, with the environmental positives this brings.

“Tropical forests are globally significant – they are home to some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, they sequester enormous amounts of carbon and sustain local communities and businesses,” states the report. “Sustainable forest management offers a way to support their long-term health. When sustainably managed through high standard certification or equivalent governance, tropical forest can be maintained and protected from illegal logging, encroachment, or conversion to agribusiness.”

The new report uses the ‘exposure to certification’ approach to calculate verified sustainable tropical timber trade flows into Europe. This provides a ‘proxy for market share’, and essentially takes the percentage of productive forest area certified in a supplier country as the basis of the percentage of certified timber exported to a consumer country.

By this measure, it calculates that the seven leading EU tropical timber consuming countries, between them accounting for 90% of total EU imports, are importing an average between 25% and 32% verified sustainable tropical primary material. The country figures vary widely, from 67.5% for the Netherlands to 5% for Spain.

By projecting these figures onto forest areas, the report calculates that EU 28 country procurement currently impacts 2.7-4.4 million ha, or 18-30%, of all certified sustainably managed natural and semi-natural tropical forest. Extrapolated, that gives the figure 16 million ha positively impacted if the entire EU sourced exclusively verified sustainable timber.

It also concludes that “based on the assumption that certification will prevent premature reentry logging, the EU trade in certified tropical timber has the potential to mitigate 55 to 88 million metric tonnes of CO2 a year”.

The report goes into more detail on the primary tropical timber imports of the seven leading EU consuming countries. It also looks at the relationship of SFM and the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement initiative (FLEGT VPA), which, it says stimulates uptake of SFM practices. Currently only Indonesia has fully implemented its VPA and is exporting FLEGT-licensed timber to the EU. But this means that 11% of primary tropical timber exposed to certification imported by the EU is also accompanied by a FLEGT-license, bringing the overall percentage certified or FLEGT-licensed to around 40%.

Also used as a reference is data gathered via members of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT). This comprises analysis of exports to Europe from five leading producers in Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Republic and the share certified.

The report concludes by acknowledging that the approximate 25% and 32% average share of EU primary tropical timber imports currently accounted for by verified sustainable material is ‘far below the STTC goal of 50% by 2020’. So, it says, ‘decisive action’ and collaboration between private and public sector stakeholders and NGOs is needed to increase sustainable tropical timber demand. Also required is ‘data and transparency’ to understand what is needed in terms of market support and where to apply it.

Concluding the report states that ‘market demand for sustainable tropical timber needs to become mainstream’, but it is upbeat about the opportunities. “Through intensified European ambition and joint public-private actions, we have the chance to protect the world’s forests,” it states.

Click here for the report and here for the presentation by Probos’ Mark van Benthem at the STTC conference.