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.