BBC's PANORAMA shows that the New EU Timber Regulation is failing to stop illegal wood reaching Europe.
Unfortunately, the current approach is wiping out an area of forest larger than Ireland every year, meaning that in some countries tropical forests could all but disappear within 50 years.
23rd July 2013
European consumption is the leading cause of deforestation.
As the merry-go-round of government meetings and memos gains momentum ahead of the United Nations' next climate summit, in Poland this November, some of the answers that policymakers are looking for are staring them in the face.
If governments stop subsidising and incentivising the destruction of the world's tropical forests, as much as a fifth of global carbon emissions could be avoided.
Unfortunately, the current approach is wiping out an area of forest larger than Ireland every year, meaning that in some countries tropical forests could all but disappear within 50 years. And according to a European Commission study published on 2 July, the main problem is not China or the US, but Europe itself. Europe accounts for 36% of the trade in products and commodities that drive deforestation, although it houses just 7% of the world's population.
This matters, not just because tropical forests are the planet's lungs and a vital store of carbon. They are critical to the livelihoods of over a billion people and they are a medicine cabinet for all of us. No less than 50% of cancer drugs come from rainforest plants, for example.
We need an alternative system that moves away from viewing them as timber mines to be liquidated for profit.
So far, attempts to address this have badly misread the scale and nature of the problem. Schemes under which rich donor countries pay poor ones to keep forests standing are not working, because these governments can make more money from investors who know that consumption is rising. Tree-planting will never replace the biodiversity, cultural heritage or climate regulation offered by ancient forests. We need solutions that tackle both supply and demand.
Europe currently does the most damage, so it should lead. It already has objectives: in 2008, environment ministers from the European Union set a goal of reducing tropical deforestation by at least 50% by 2020, and halting deforestation completely by 2030. But the EU is short of these targets.
The French government is showing the way forward. Its development minister, Pascal Canfin, recently announced that France's development policies will follow a zero deforestation and forest-degradation path. France will establish a new action plan for tropical forests, directing money away from logging companies to support land tenure rights for forest communities.
Norway obliges companies to disclose their environmental impacts. Food companies now publish their use of palm oil, a major driver of deforestation; as a result, Norway's food sector reduced palm-oil consumption by two-thirds in a single year. The EU could follow suit by extending transparency and reporting rules.
As the world's biggest aid donor and a major trade partner, the EU is also best positioned to initiate a new international approach to valuing tropical forests. It is currently in the process of agreeing ‘voluntary partnership agreements' with several developing countries to fight illegal logging.
This is welcome, but the bigger problem is the legal, donor-subsidised industrial timber sector, which now frequently claims to practise ‘sustainable forest management'. But from Cambodia to Cameroon, Global Witness has shown how industrial logging typically marks the beginning of the end for tropical forests.
The EU should promote a wholesale re-think on land-use planning and development strategies in tropical forested countries. Global demand should only be served from those areas that are already heavily degraded, from existing plantations and non-forested lands, and through the more careful use of products already made.
The EU's deforestation targets will never be met if policymakers continue implicitly to accept the death of forests as a necessary evil to meet consumer demand. Fortunately, Europe has the power and means to lead. It should demonstrate that in Poland.
See also: BBC's Panorama investigates illegal logging in the rainforest 22 July 2013 Last updated at 06:07 GMT Help
The BBC's Panorama programme has spent six months tracking illegal timber from the Congolese rainforest to western Europe.
It has revealed that the new EU Timber Regulation is failing to stop illegal wood reaching Europe.
Reporter Raphael Rowe showed logs which appeared to have had its identification markings changed, to logging industry investigators Brad Mulley of Forests Monitor and Serge Moukouri of Resource Extraction Monitoring.
The company that fells the logs, Taman Industries Limited, said they do not illegally export timber and a "human error" had been made while marking the logs.
They agreed the stamps on the logs we filmed appeared to be changed and promised to get back to us with further details. They never did.
Panorama's Jungle Outlaws: The Chainsaw Trail is on Monday 22 July at 2030 BST on BBC One.