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22 Mar 07
Tracking System Aids Fight Against Illegal Logging
Story by Jeremy Lovell
LONDON - A global computerised system that tracks wood from stump to store is aiding the battle against illegal logging and helping consumers choose sustainable products, says Scott Poynton of the Tropical Forest Trust.
Under the system, which has been tested in Indonesia, a tree destined for legal felling is given a unique barcode identifying its type and location that it carries all through the process from forest to furniture.
"When the barcode is scanned, a server in London verifies the information. If the tree has suddenly come up as a different type or if the barcode had been replicated and there are suddenly lots of the same tree, the alarm rings," Poynton said.
"Our people go back to the factory owner and tell him he has been rumbled. Because buyers in Europe and the United States are now increasingly demanding legal, sustainably logged products, he will quickly cooperate," he told Reuters.
Illegal logging is both big business and a major contributor to climate change. The World Bank calculates illegal logging is costing producer country governments between US$10 billion and $15 billion a year in lost revenue from taxes foregone.
Environmentalists also say the trade and wholesale clearance of tropical forests for settlement and cropping is not only devastating ecologically but is a major contributor to global warming carbon gases.
The Tropical Forest Trust (TFT), a charity established in 1999 to try to bring some order and sustainability to the global timber trade, already reckons it has made a big difference and the new system will do even more.
"More and more the buyers and governments in Europe and the United States are demanding wood and products from certified sources and factory owners are coming to us to learn how to comply," Poynton said on a visit from TFT's Geneva headquarters.
He said Europe had led the way in demanding verified legal timber which had left open a massive loophole in that the United States had not acted, so makers of illegal products had simply switched target markets.
However, major US retailer Crate and Barrel had now signed up to TFT and there were signs the US government would likewise ban illegal timber.
Poynton identified China, which had moved in just five years from a net timber importer to become one of the world's top exporters, as a major problem.
"It is sucking up illegal timber from all over the world and re-exporting it. It is estimated that by 2015 China will have a net demand deficit of 190 million cubic metres of wood -- that is 50-60 million trees -- a year," Poynton said.
"In Brazil there is major illegal forest clearance to plant soya for biofuels -- doing far more harm to the environment than the biofuels will do good -- and the timber is all going to China then turning up in Europe as plywood.
"Pressure from business and governments -- with the help of this new tracking system -- should give a quantum boost to the campaign to end illegal logging. After all, the Chinese are in business, and no market means no business," he added.
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