New Zealand Companies Crack Down on Illegal Timber

Companies that illegally log tropical forests in Indonesia may in future find it harder to sell their product on the international market, as the most important group of New Zealand timber importers has vowed to quickly phase out purchasing wood from Indonesia that can’t be verified as legally harvested. By September 1st of this year, members of the NZ Imported Tropical Timber Group will only buy Indonesian wood that can be verified as having been harvested legally. The move signals growing international awareness of the fact that Indonesia’s disappearing forests represent a valuable carbon sink and are a stronghold of planetary biodiversity.

While countries like Brazil have brought deforestation within their borders to an all-time low, Indonesia continues to lose vast swaths of forest to the timber and palm oil-growing industries. Deforestation has made Indonesia a major carbon emitter, second only to the United States and China in terms of yearly greenhouse emissions. Deforestation also threatens countless plant and animal species unique to the archipelago nation, and timber and palm oil companies have been accused of usurping land from small farmers and spraying their plantations with pesticides that pollute the air and water. Yet forestry reform has been difficult in Indonesia, partly because much of the logging that goes on takes place illegally.

Part of the problem is Indonesia still suffers from widespread government corruption left over from the regime of the dictator Suharto, who ruled the country with a fist of iron until the late 1990s. The current, democratically elected government has expressed a desire to bring deforestation under control. But new forest protection laws are almost impossible to enforce when existing laws aren’t being followed and major companies are clearing forests illegally. Of course, just because timber was legally harvested is no guarantee it comes from a sustainable source—but making illegal logging unacceptable in the international community would be a first step toward protecting Indonesia’s forests.

Thus this month’s announcement from the NZ Imported Tropical Timber Group, whose members provide 85-90% of New Zealand’s imported tropical timber, is especially welcome. Though the group arrived at its new policy voluntarily, New Zealand’s Green Party is urging the government to make a similar anti-illegal logging policy mandatory for all timber companies. Compared to some countries New Zealand is not exactly a giant player in the international timber market—but it is located relatively close to Indonesia, making that country an important source of timber imports.

A commitment from New Zealand’s biggest timber importers to no longer buy illegal wood will strengthen the signal companies in Indonesia are getting, that illegal logging is not acceptable. A growing list of US and international companies have already taken steps to avoid products that contribute to deforestation in Indonesia. With the international community waking up, corporations that log tropical forests illegally may soon find there’s no one who will buy their product.

Photo credit: Walter Lim