New protection for endangered trees against rampant logging trade

178 nations at the world's biggest wildlife summit agree to strictly regulate trade in mahogany and rosewood timber
Damian Carrington 12 Mar 13;

Every species of mahogany and rosewood tree in Madagascar gained new protection on Tuesday against a rampant logging trade that threatens to wipe out some species before they are even discovered.

The 178 nations at the world's biggest wildlife summit agreed unanimously to strictly regulate the international trade in mahogany timber.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), taking place in Bangkok, also gave new protection to rosewood in Central America, Thailand and Vietnam. Ebony and rosewoods are targeted to make high-price furniture, musical instruments, chess pieces and flooring.

"There are 80 ebony species known in Madagascar but they are literally identifying more right now and there may be as many as 240 species in all," said Noel McGough, a botanist at Kew Botanical Gardens in London and a member of the UK delegation. He said the new protection, aimed at ensuring harvests are sustainable, had been urgently needed: "We need to move quickly."

"Regulating the international trade will give the chance to feed money back to the poor local communities," he added. "Illegal trade just drains money away from them."

Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the exploitation of ebony in Madagascar, with much of the wood destined for Asian markets. For some species, no large trees remain in the wild, posing a serious threat to trees that take decades to produce the hard, dense, black wood that is sought after.

The number of rosewood trees in Thailand is estimated to have declined as much as 70%, from around 300,000 in 2005 to 80,000-100,000 trees in 2011.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said Interpol and Unep estimated that 50-90% of logging in the key tropical countries around the world is being carried out by organised crime gangs. "Illegal logging is worth well over $30bn annually to the criminals, whereas many of the poor people enlisted into these illegal activities get a pittance in return," he said.

There were many ways criminals dealt in illegal timber, Steiner said, including falsifying logging permits, bribing officials to obtain permits, logging beyond concessions and hacking government websites to obtain or change electronic permits.

In all, 135 species of Madagascan ebony and rosewoods were protected. John Scanlon, secretary-general of Cites, praised the achievement of the 178 member states, noting that previous discussions of valuable timber had been difficult.

McGough said the tone of the debate on Tuesday was very different to that of recent decades: "There were very divisive debates that set range states [where the trees grow] against importing countries and saw many proposals defeated or withdrawn in the face of mass opposition."

Cites meeting: Ebony beats ivory in conservation stakes
Matt McGrath BBC News 12 Mar 13;

Delegates to the Cites conservation meeting in Thailand have agreed far-reaching restrictions on the trade in critically endangered hardwood trees.

Extra protection was given to several species of rosewood and ebony that have been threatened by illegal logging.

Campaigners welcomed the move, saying it stood in marked contrast to the slow pace of progress in tackling the ivory-poaching crisis.

The criminal trade in timber is said to be worth around $30bn (£20bn) annually.

The Cites meeting in Bangkok agreed to upgrade the restrictions on species of rare rosewood trees from South East Asia and South America as well as species of ebony from Madagascar.

Black market timber

Campaigners were particularly pleased that a variety of rosewood grown in Thailand will now be listed in Appendix 2, meaning both exporters and importers will have to have a valid permit.

Growing demand from China's middle classes for luxury furniture has fuelled illegal logging in this product, which can fetch up to $50,000 (£33,000) a cubic metre.

Faith Doherty from the Environmental Investigation Agency said it was a big step forward for this species.

“Finally, we have a legal tool to use in China, the main destination and where rosewood prices on the black market are spurring a flood of smuggling and associated violence,” she said.

Many ebony products from Madagascar also end up in China. Despite domestic legislation banning exports, illegal logging has continued unabated.

The restrictions also mean that an exporting country now has an obligation to determine that the number of trees being cut down is not detrimental to the survival of the species.

Where Cites really packs a punch is in its ability to impose trade sanctions on any country that over-exports a restricted species. These sanctions would be across the whole range of species regulated by Cites and could prove extremely expensive to offending countries.

The move into dealing with timber species was welcomed by Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation.

“I think it is exciting to see that Cites is being brave enough in the face of very persuasive commercial operations to address tree species,” he told BBC News.

“Everybody now recognises that there is a serious crisis out there – the demand side of the equation has to be addressed and the only way of doing that is to put these species on Appendix 2.”

Governments fall short on immediate efforts to curb illegal ivory trade at wildlife trade meeting
WWF 12 Mar 13;

Bangkok, Thailand - World governments at the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) on Tuesday opted against immediate trade sanctions against several countries that have repeatedly failed to tackle the trade in ivory.

“We’re disappointed by the lack of urgency from governments to speed up the sanctions process against countries that have failed to act for years to curb the illegal ivory trade in their countries, while the slaughter of thousands of elephants continues in Africa,” said Carlos Drews, head of WWF’s CITES delegation.

“However we will be watching to see that CITES holds these governments to account in the coming year.”

Despite an early discussion in CITES on potential trade sanctions against countries failing to regulate their ivory markets, governments did not enact those rules against offenders including Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria and Uganda.

Governments instead directed those countries to identify actions and deadlines to ensure progress in controlling illegal ivory trade before summer 2014, with the potential threat that they could face trade sanctions then if there was no significant improvement in the situation. The nine countries were given just over a year to show improvements in their performance.

“Governments have been aware for years about the lack of compliance by several countries. Forest elephants in Central Africa are declining rapidly and running out of time,” Drews said. “We hope governments will speed up compliance measures against countries flouting restrictions on the ivory trade.”

The worst offenders, including top demand countries China and Thailand, the host country for the meeting, as well as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam, are expected to be discussed in a separate session on Thursday.

“We hope that governments will take a stronger stance against these countries considered the biggest problems when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, and that should include much more urgency than we saw today,” Drews said.

Under treaty rules, CITES member states can recommend that parties stop trading with non-compliant countries in the 35,000 species covered under the convention, from orchids to crocodile skins.

Tuesday’s decisions came as poaching of elephants has reached crisis levels. Up to 30,000 elephants are slaughtered every year to feed the illegal ivory trade. The ivory trade has been regulated under CITES since the early 1970s.

There were, however, several other measures adopted by governments to help curb the illegal ivory trade, including:

The creation of an Ivory Enforcement Task Force, which will allow for better law enforcement collaboration between countries
Better DNA-based forensic techniques to identify the origin of confiscated ivory
An acknowledgement of the need for demand reduction campaigns on ivory

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