According to a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), entitled “Appetite for Destruction”, China is now the world’s largest consumer of illegal timber. The agency investigated both source and destination countries for illegal deforestation and timber import/export. The report highlights the China’s “unwillingness to explicitly prohibit illegal timber trade”, calling on the Chinese government to enforce current laws and act to keep illegal timber out of the country.

China’s policies on domestic forests have had a knock-on effect concerning other countries, making it effectively an exporter of deforestation, in the words of the head of EIA’s forest campaign. Asian Pacific countries like Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar) and Papua New Guinea as well as African nations like Mozambique, are major suppliers. In 2011 the PRC imported circa 180 million cubic meters of wood, making it both the world’s largest importer and exporter of timber.

Deforestation in Burma, pic: Isabel Esterman (Flickr CC)

From Al Jazeera:

China launched its national natural forest protection programme and that had a lot of impact in protecting natural forest in China. It means that the Chinese industry can’t get timber from domestic forests so has to increase its imports.

–Liu Bing, the head of Greenpeace East Asia’s forest campaign

As with many development-related problems, China’s rapid industrialization and growing middle classes share much of the blame for the increase in illegal deforestation. As levels of consumption approach those in developed nations, global resources are strained to unsustainable levels. Timber is no exception. The problem is not limited to cheap timber for the construction sector, but also luxury tropical woods.

From the Guardian:

Rosewood trafficking is especially lucrative. Although rosewood is classified as an endangered species by the International Trade Convention, trade in that wood has risen dramatically, triggered by demand from well-off Chinese households for reproductions of Qing and Ming dynasty furniture. It is now sourced in Madagascar, Burma, ThailandVietnam and Belize, and rosewood imports to China rose from 66,000 cubic metres in 2005 to 565,000 cubic metres in 2011.

Legitimate timber business in far eastern Russia is also suffering from illegal logging fuelled by Chinese demand. According to a piece in the Moscow Times, “international furniture giants” are also being blamed by Russian businesses because they turn a blind eye as to the origin of cheap wood they purchase. The official line, however, is that illegal logging is no longer a problem in the region.

For more information on the issue of global illegal deforestation see illegal-logging.info and global timber.org.uk.

Papua New Guinea, pic: Greenpeace Esperanza (Flickr CC)