Skip to main content


Volume 730: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the effect of logging operations in the rainforests of Africa, Asia and South America; and what is the likely impact on the indigenous human, plant and animal life.

My Lords, more than 1 billion people depend in varying degrees on the forests for their livelihoods with many more depending on the ecosystem services they provide. Some 350 million people who live within or adjacent to dense forests depend on them to a high degree for subsistence and income. Degradation and deforestation cause a loss of between $2 trillion and $4.5 trillion per year in ecosystems goods and services.

Does my noble friend share my concern that while good intentions are being declared across the world, rainforest logging operations continue at a higher rate than before? Is it not just possible that funnelling loads of money through the World Bank is the wrong way to go about things? My fear is that in relying on REDD-plus and so-called sustainable forest management, fund providers are being hoodwinked? Would my noble friend and her colleagues therefore give much greater support direct to NGOs and the like which know what is happening on the ground and are much better placed to achieve early practical progress at the grass roots, where it really will make a difference?

My Lords, my noble friend is to be congratulated on raising this issue again. It is true that these issues will not be dealt with singly by the UK or by Governments who are not prepared fully to accept that there is a lot of work and persuasion to be done, by rule of law, that illegal logging must be stopped. However, I reassure my noble friend that we work with NGOs and are a founding member of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. We are working very closely with countries such as India to help restore and recover forests. My noble friend Lord Henley has just recently participated in the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration in Bonn. Governments can do their part and NGOs can do theirs. However, countries where this is happening also have to respond with severe penalties.

Does my noble friend agree that biodiversity and loss of species are even more important than climate change? With a huge amount of resources and tremendous effort, it is possible eventually to reverse climate change, but once a species is lost, it is gone for ever, and the damage could be irreparable. Does she also agree that this is not just a matter of polar bears, tigers or even red squirrels, but that many of the boring little unsexy species that could be lost by deforestation could actually be valuable to human life and existence?

My noble friend has put the case perfectly for why we need to work incredibly hard. That is why the UK has supported developing countries to participate in the United Nations study on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity which estimates, as I have said, that the financial cost is immense but the cost to species is even greater, and the initial long-term impact will be on us.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that one of the largest single sources of global emissions is actually deforestation, often illegal logging? The British Government took the initiative a number of years ago to push for reforestation, and we are one of the few countries in the world with experience of it. Can we have an assurance from the Government that they will redouble their effort for reforestation as well as stamping out illegal logging?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. It is about working with other countries, which we are doing aggressively. We have worked very closely to get all our partner countries to sign off the new EU timber regulation that came into force last December. It is about being persistent in our argument. I agree with the noble Lord that it is really a devastation to all countries if we do not tackle this issue right now.

Is my noble friend aware that the Democratic Republic of Congo officially produces more than half a million cubic metres of timber each year, and illegally produces about the same amount each year? Is she also aware that British technology is now available to the DRC that tracks the entire supply chain of timber from standing forest trees to the wholesale timber market? What action will the Government take, therefore, to help facilitate the DRC Government’s efforts to complete negotiations with the European Union to enter into traceability agreements?

My noble friend is right about Congo. However, as with the previous question, it is about all partner countries being able to respond with severe penalties when they see illegal timber coming through their borders. Of course, the important thing is that these are conversations that continue. They are not had at one conference—it is a continuous conversation at many conferences, and it will arise again at the Durban conference in December.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give any indication as to whether our Government will be following the moves by Switzerland and Germany to investigate money-laundering of the proceeds of timber corruption by the chief minister of Sarawak in Malaysia? What other measures are being taken to identify and sanction those large international logging companies which do not ensure best practice in sustainable logging?

The noble Lord talks about a specific case, which I will not refer to. In a more general response, I would like to say to noble Lords that we are ensuring that we respond proactively to the difficulties we are all facing with this issue. The multinational companies that deal in illegal logging will find that the penalties for this will be severe. That is the agreement we are trying to get from all our partner countries so that it is not just a small group of countries that are willing to apply severe penalties, but that the penalties will be severe at every border that illegal timber comes through. It is about greater partnership but it is also about recognising that we are only a small cog when it comes to dealing with these issues and it is really for the whole world to respond collectively.

My Lords, what does my noble friend think about the UN-REDD initiative mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Eden? Is it cost-effective, and how much does the United Kingdom contribute to it annually?

I cannot give my noble friend a figure on the contribution at the moment; I will write to him on it. However, I repeat that we may think that some systems are weak, but we have to strengthen those systems—review and revise them—and make countries where deforestation and illegal logging take place responsible for responding positively.