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European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008

Volume 705: debated on Monday 17 November 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: This order covers the ratification of the 2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement. The agreement, approved on 27 January 2006, provides for the governance of the International Tropical Timber Organisation.

The objectives of the 2006 ITTA are to promote the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests and to promote the sustainable management of tropical timber-producing forests.

The ITTO is a small organisation. Its 60 members represent about 80 per cent of the world’s tropical forests and 90 per cent of the global tropical timber trade. It is based in Yokohama, Japan, and here I pay tribute to the generosity of the Government of Japan in hosting the ITTO.

The ITTO was established at a time when there was increasing concern about the fate of tropical forests and when it was recognised that, unless tropical forests could provide a significant income to the countries in which they were found, they would be cut down and replaced by agriculture.

The ITTO pioneered ways of measuring the sustainability of the management of forests, and this led to the development of certification schemes. Some 320 million hectares of the world’s forests have now been certified as sustainably managed. Most of these forests are in Europe and North America, where the governance of forests is strong, not least because the institutions, like our own Forestry Commission, are strong.

In Africa and Asia, only 0.1 per cent of forests have been certified as sustainably managed. Problems of poor governance and underinvestment in the capacity to manage and regulate forests have held back many tropical developing countries. The ITTO can help to build that capacity with the information, technical guidance and training that it provides, as well as with project funding.

Since it became operational in 1987, the ITTO has funded more than 800 projects at a cost of $300 million. Project funding has not always been well focused and had become out of step with the approaches to funding favoured by development agencies.

The 2006 ITTA recognises this and provides for new thematic programmes which will focus efforts on a small number of priorities, such as forest law enforcement and governance, forests and climate change, and community forest management and enterprises. In making available to its members up-to-date information about prices from around the world, ITTO’s market information service helps reduce the transfer pricing that used to plague the tropical timber trade.

ITTO has been responsive to the suggestions of civil society and private sector advisory groups by, for example, championing the development of community-based forest enterprises. It has been active in promoting the restoration of degraded forests as part of the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration, to which the UK Forestry Commission lends its support.

The 2006 ITTA remains focused on the sustainable management of tropical forests and the trade in tropical timber, but builds on previous agreements by focusing future work on new priorities and better ways of working. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008. 30th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

I apologise to the Minister, first, for my own absence when he started to speak, and secondly, possibly more properly, for whichever of my colleagues was supposed to speak to the order. However, I have listened to most of what the Minister said and I do not want to pose any questions to him, for which he will no doubt be grateful. I welcome the order.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Although it is technical, it represents a broad and important area of government and global policy on sustainable forests, rainforests and climate change. There have in the past been certification schemes for timber coming into this country which have failed many of the tests, but we now have new schemes—the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification—that have been much more successful. I was struck particularly by the Minister’s statistic that although the agreement has had a major impact in Europe and North America, only a pathetic 0.1 per cent of forests had been certified as sustainably managed in Asia, where the real challenges lie. We know that Indonesia’s deforestation accounts for something like 3 per cent to 5 per cent of total carbon emissions per annum. I am not sure about the situation in South America. Does the agreement have anything other than a cosmetic effect on what we are trying to achieve, and how can it be made better? It is a great and worthy initiative which we all want to make far better, but in reality it has such a marginal effect on sustainable forests that we should say, “Great, get on with this—but now we really need to get on with the real job”.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his points. This is an important issue. Deforestation accounts for 17 per cent of world CO2, which is more than that from all the world’s transport emissions. It is crucial that we tackle it. Recent work has suggested that, by 2020, we could halve it with the right investment, and that, by 2030, we could probably go to a carbon-neutral forestry environment. Those are worthwhile objectives.

The agreement sustains and redirects the ITTO. That is important because the ITTO has achieved a number of things during the past 20 years. It is about creating standards to describe what sustainability is about and an information system that makes the world markets much more transparent. We need those as essential building blocks in the sort of very big initiatives that will be needed by the world as a whole to tackle this problem—and it is a problem that we must solve. For instance, the UK Government are working with the European Commission on a diligence regulation that will require traders in timbers to adopt certain standards in certificating reports, and so on. That can happen only on the basis of the ITTO’s work in the past. The basis of the ITTO’s work in future will be to maintain those facilities and to move to much more directed and thematic operations. So it is right to approve the order.

Although we should not underrate the value of the ITTO, bigger initiatives will be needed to tackle this large problem. Of the various carbon challenges, however, this is the most obviously solvable, provided that we get the right international momentum.

On Question, Motion agreed to.