David Hopkins, managing director, Timber Trade Federation
The role of material specification in helping designers achieve a positive social and environmental impact is something most are now beginning to understand.
This is is good news. Timber already has the lowest carbon footprint of any mainstream building material, and specifiers can look for a range of chain-of-custody and certification schemes to give assurance over the wider social and environmental benefits their products bring.
Certification schemes are familiar across most European forestry production, however their inroads into tropical timber have been less successful. When areas surrounding individual forest concessions are rife with illegal logging, maintaining individual standards to their boundary is difficult, particularly where basic governance and the rule of law is weak, if applied at all.
This has meant that, in many cases, European specifiers have simply turned their backs on tropical timber as it is seen as too risky, or too difficult to ensure it has come from a responsible source.
This is where FLEGT comes in. FLEGT – Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade – is an overarching policy framework designed to combat illegal logging and deforestation.
Supported by UK Department for International Development (DfID), the European Union, UN FAO and others, the FLEGT Action Plan improves governance, strengthens sustainable and legal forest management, and promotes trade in legally produced timber. In turn, it provides vital revenues for local people to keep the forests standing.
FLEGT licences show that a country manages its forests in line with forest management and environment laws, as well as labour and community welfare legislation.
It shows that logging rights have been granted according to the law, and that timber is legally harvested.
The licences also confirm that products comply with legal requirements for trade and export, and that required taxes and fees are paid, directing vital finance back into local communities.
At present, 15 countries are going through Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) – the formal process of overhauling the legal, social, business and environmental infrastructure to achieve a FLEGT licence. Together, VPA forests cover an area the size of the EU and account for around 80% of EU tropical timber imports.
The VPAs engage with communities and civil society on an unprecedented scale, and take years to negotiate and implement. Once the VPA process is complete and been audited by international teams, those countries can export timber under a recognised scheme and which automatically gives their timber a “green lane” as legal under the EUTR.
This is why the final letter in FLEGT stands for Trade. Trade is a vital component in addressing the problem of illegal logging. Establishing a credible system of production and licensing which guarantees the provenance of timber means sustainable use of resources, and makes it easier for businesses in the UK and EU to import legal timber products.
Indonesia is the first country to have completed the FLEGT process: compared to previous years it has seen a 60% drop in tree cover loss in primary forests. This isn’t to say that problems do not still exist – the pressures on land use throughout the tropics are immense – but it is a very positive and encouraging sign.
Soon other countries will be completing their VPA process and issuing FLEGT licenced timber and products. So, the Timber Trade Federation is working with the support of the Department for International Development to raise awareness among specifiers about FLEGT, what species and products are available, how these can be used, and to encourage acceptance in your own procurement frameworks.
Which is why we are asking, how important is timber to your business? We need to know what you think:
And if you want to know more, get in touch. We can help your company learn more about FLEGT and how the materials you choose today can have a positive and lasting impact on the fate of the world’s forests.