European sustainable sourcing pledge could benefit huge forest area

If Europe’s seven leading tropical timber importing countries committed to 100% sustainable sourcing, it could enhance the sustainable management of over 5 million ha of tropical forest needed to supply the material.

This is one of the headline findings of a new report commissioned for the STTC by IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative from forest and timber sector not-for-profit consultancy Probos.

How Sustainable are Europe’s Tropical Timber Imports?’ looks at trends in primary tropical timber supply to key European markets and current levels of certified sustainable sourcing. It also mentions the possibility of a government pledge to the latter. Its model for such a commitment is the Amsterdam Declaration. Under this seven countries (Germany, France, the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Norway) agreed initially to sustainable sourcing of palm oil, then widened their focus to other ‘deforestation commodities’, palm oil, soya and cocoa.

“To date, timber has not come under a ‘deforestation-free’ supply chain initiatives such as the Amsterdam Declaration, possibly because of the significant decline in timber sales to Europe in the years of the economic crisis and the complexity of the timber supply chain,” says Nienke Stam of IDH’s Tropical Timber program. “But, if we’re serious about halting tropical deforestation, strengthened demand for timber from sustainable forest management is part of the solution.”

Despite recent market contraction, the report contends, national commitments to 100% sustainable tropical timber sourcing by key importers would still have significant beneficial impact in tropical forests.

Currently, Probos estimates, just 30% of European primary tropical timber sales are sustainably sourced. So, it maintains there is considerable scope for increasing sustainable timber’s market share, even in countries like the UK and Netherlands with significant levels of environmental awareness and commitment on sustainability issues.

At the same time, says the report, tropical forestry operators at present ‘have limited market incentives to continue sustainable operations’, while, ´competition from mainly Asian markets, not committed to these sustainability standards is fierce´.

It is estimated that the Amsterdam Declaration countries, plus Belgium account for 81% of all European tropical timber imports. If all these  committed to sustainable sourcing, Probos calculates that ‘it would have a positive impact on approximately 5.3 million ha of tropical forests’.

To take this project forward, the report concludes, European governments should focus more on increasing verified sustainable timber market share. It maintains that more reliable data is also required on the market, pointing out that the STTC is forging a new partnership to provide this.

“Our experience in the Netherlands tells us that accurate market intelligence is key to know which market to target for measures to increase sustainability to be effective”, says Mark van Benthem of Probos. “These market figures can now be linked to an area of tropical forest which is positively impacted by the choices we make in Europe. This should give a strong boost to our message: sustaining forests, support sustainably sourced timber.”