Image: John Atherton via flickr
Worldwide, 20 to 40 percent of industrial wood comes from illegal sources. So it's big news that Liberia, which has half or more of West Africa's remaining rainforests, has signed a deal with the European Union, where an estimated 20 percent of wood is illegally logged.
For years, illegal logging in Liberia was funding Charles Taylor's regime and fueling war crimes (for which he is being tried at The Hague), and was marred by corruption.
The Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) will, its backers hope, give a jump start to a sustainable forestry industry for Liberia, one that will ensure "the gifts from our forests will benefit all Liberians now and in the future," said Dr. Florence Chenoweth, Liberian Minister of Agriculture. "This historic agreement is a stepping stone for a new, stronger Liberia, built on principles of good governance, transparency, and rule of law."
The agreement is legally binding, defines what timber is legal in the producer country, and establishes a system to verify compliance and ensure traceability for the wood back to its source.
The new timber accord is part of a series of VPAs negotiated between the EU and major timber producing countries, including Ghana, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, and most recently Indonesia. VPAs are part of a package of measures set out in the European Union's 2003 Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), which recognizes the role of EU demand for timber products in driving illicit timber sales. A legally-binding trade agreement between a timber-producing country and the EU, the VPA defines what constitutes legal timber in the producer country and sets up an assurance system able to verify compliance and ensure that timber for export can be traced back to the source.
Some are skeptical of the agreement, including former Goldman Prize winner Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, who is worried it will be used to simply cover up the same poor practices.
The BBC quotes him saying: "To control illegal logging, there must be strong political will on the part of the EU and the Liberian government, as well as the active participation of civil society actors, including local communities... Without that, the VPA will be used simply to 'greenwash' illegal logs from Liberia."
But some have hope—if out of desperation more than true faith. The BBC quotes a spokesman for local citizens in a heavily forested but still-extremely-poor region of Liberia:
"The forest is being depleted, and everyone depends on this forest," said Mr Greene. He warned that if no measures are taken to preserve the forest, "within 25 years, there will be no forest left" in the county.
More about Liberia and logging
Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor on Exposing Blood Timber
10 Countries With the Highest Deforestation Rates in the World
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