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Tullamore Town Council

Council increases it's "carbon footprint".

Open Letter to Offaly County Council and Tullamore Town Council.
Tullamore Town Council increases its 'carbon footprint'.
Is our new swimming pool going to 'cost the Earth'?
By Tom Roche, Coordinator, Just Forests.

At a time when we are all being asked by national and local government to ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’ in order to minimise our ‘carbon footprint’ on the earth and conserve finite resources, Tullamore Town Council has failed to show good example and lead the way in relation to national and global environmental issues. The Council’s use of over 260 sheets of Brazilian plywood in the new swimming pool site hoarding at Cloncollig is morally reprehensible. The plywood is made from hardwood from the Amazon rainforest and its use raises legal, ethical, environmental, social, biodiversity and economic issues that will have far-reaching and potentially catastrophic consequences.

Around the world, illegal logging, criminal exploitation and trade in forest resources are destroying forest ecosystems, undermining the livelihoods of local communities and depriving governments in transition of much-needed revenue. Illegal logging causes environmental damage, promotes corruption, undermines the rule of law and good governance and funds armed conflict. It retards sustainable development in some of the poorest countries of the world. Consumer countries like Ireland contribute to these problems by importing timber and wood products without ensuring that they are legally sourced through credible third-party verification.

An Environmental Audit Committee report by the UK Government was critical of the lack of control over the sources of timber bought by their own government departments. The report cited the absence of clear guidance for departments on timber procurement as contributing to the issue. It also highlighted the fact that “60% of the tropical timber imported into the UK was illegally logged”. Much of the tropical timber entering Ireland comes from UK importers. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimate that the global trade in timber is worth more than 150 billion US Dollars a year, of which the EU is the world’s largest importer. Estimates suggest that as much as 50 percent of EU imports of timber and wood products from Southern countries may be illegally sourced and 20 percent from Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation.

The EU has expressed its concern for the influx of illegally-sourced forest products into the European market and has issued a directive to member states to tackle the problem: the directive is contained in a document entitled ‘Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade’ (FLEGT). While some producer and consumer countries are paying increasing attention to illegal logging, Just Forests believe that not enough is being done here in Ireland. Irish timber traders and local authorities have an important role to play in halting this earth destroying activity - a ‘business as usual’ approach is not good enough.

Local Authorities are in a very good position to influence change. They construct, operate and maintain economic, social and environmental infrastructure, oversee planning processes and establish local environmental policies and regulations. They also assist in implementing national and regional environmental policies. They are very close to the people and play a vital role in educating and mobilising the public and responding to community concerns. Therefore, Local Authorities – large or small – are important players for putting sustainable development into practice. They are important consumers with public procurement policies as a powerful tool for promoting the use of environmentally and socially responsible products and practices. Local Authorities’ behaviour is likely to have an important influence on people and they should take every opportunity to set a good example to the public.

The second of four reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN-IPCC) was released on Friday last, 6th April 2007. The UN panel warned that global warming will cause an increase in extinction of animal and plant species, water shortages to spread and droughts and floods to become more frequent as man-made emissions of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm. At a time when we are all being asked by national and local government to ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’ in order to minimise our ‘carbon footprint’ on the earth and conserve finite resources, Tullamore Town Council has failed to show good example and lead the way in relation to national and global environmental issues.

By not specifying a suitable material made right here in Ireland from locally-grown timber by a wholly-owned Irish company that provides local employment and which is independently certified they have failed to practice what they preach. Such a material is readily available. Tullamore Town Council has let a golden opportunity to be a model of ‘sustainable development’ for other local authorities slip through their fingers. They have failed to send a strong message to timber traders that ‘business as usual’ is not acceptable. Neglecting to have a procurement policy on timber and wood-based products means their own ‘carbon footprint’ will increase. This is no way for a modern-day local authority to behave in light of impending Climate Change issues – the greatest challenge facing society for the foreseeable future.

Plants and trees play a vital role in purifying our air of harmful greenhouse gases. The process is commonly referred to as carbon sequestration. This is the natural process whereby living plants and trees remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis as they grow. The earth’s vegetation and soil currently contain the equivalent of almost 7,500 gigatons of CO2 - more carbon than that contained in all remaining oil stocks, and more than double the total amount of carbon currently accumulated in the atmosphere. The carbon presently locked up in forest ecosystems alone is greater than the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Some of this carbon is transferred to the soil through the roots and as leaves fall and decay. But when soils are disturbed through ploughing or when trees are cut down, the stored carbon oxidizes and escapes back into the atmosphere as CO2. Emissions from deforestation are very significant globally. The recently launched Stern Review by the UK government puts annual emissions from deforestation at more than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is greater than that produced by the whole of the global transport sector. These emissions could potentially be cut significantly fairly quickly. No new technology has to be developed, but action is needed. Having clear and workable environmentally-conscious public procurement policies in relation to the supply of goods and services is a very good starting point. Local authorities should lead the way.

A National Timber Procurement Policy for Everyone

Offaly County Council and Tullamore Town Council members and officials have been exposed to Just Forests’ aims and objectives more so that any other local administrative bodies in Ireland since our foundation in Tullamore in 1989. The current Offaly County Manager, Mr. Pat Gallagher, was one of our main speakers at the first public information conference on global forest related matters held in Dowdstown House, Navan, on 22nd November 1996. Mr. Gallagher was then Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Development Co-Operation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. In his presentation Mr. Gallagher stated “A fundamental principle of Irish Aid is that sustainable development is only possible when adequate attention is paid to environmental issues. Therefore, systematic attention is given to environmental questions at all stages of project implementation, including project identification, appraisal, review and evaluation. Implicit in this is the taking into account of issues regarding forestry, forestation and deforestation”. Mr.Gallagher’s full presentation was carried in the Tullamore Tribune 1st February 1997.

Under the stewardship of the previous County Manager, Mr Niall Sweeney, Offaly County Council became the first local authority in Ireland to officially adopt a timber purchasing policy in 2001. The head of Tullamore Town Council, Mr. Eoin Doyle, sat on the Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) that supported the adoption of this policy. Mr. Niall Sweeney stated, “Offaly County Council are delighted to be the first local authority in Ireland to have formally adopted a timber purchasing policy. We believe that by promoting this policy, where practicable, in our public works contracts, we are leading by example in the sustainable development of forests both home and abroad”.

During his tenure as Minister for Foreign Affairs, our present Finance Minister, Mr. Brian Cowen, launched Just Forests’ Good Wood Policy Guide in the offices of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI) in Merrion Square, Dublin 2, on 25th September 2002. The minister stated, “I believe that a forest certification scheme like the Forest Stewardship Council is a powerful tool for encouraging responsible forest management. It also provides an opportunity for individuals, companies and local authorities to play a role in supporting sustainable development.” Also during the Minister’s tenure as Minister for Energy, Mr. Cowen opened Just Forests’ Wood of Life exhibition on two occasions.

In October 2002, thirty copies of Just Forests’ Good Wood Policy Guide were sent to Mr. Tom Parlon, Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), for their architects’ department.

In more recent times Just Forests has tried to persuade Tullamore Town Council to adopt a responsible timber policy to coincide with the construction of the new swimming pool. On July 14th 2006, Just Forests offered this service to Mr. Eoin Doyle at a meeting in Tullamore Town Council offices. Mr. Doyle agreed in principal to participate in the programme. On August 3rd 2006, a fully costed proposal based on the SmartSource programme of the New York-based Rainforest Alliance (RA) which is accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was sent to Mr. Doyle. The proposal set out in detail what steps needed to be taken:

- a Preliminary Sourcing Review

- introduce Council’s staff to current issues facing the timber supply chain, illegal logging, conflict timber, etc

- responsible timber sourcing, forest certification, effective ways to monitor progress, how tocommunicate Council’s sustainability achievements

- guidance for architects

- assistance for suppliers

Over the following few months, subsequent phone calls (about 20) and emails (around 10) from Just Forests were totally ignored by Mr. Doyle - not even an acknowledgement of the proposal was received.

The new swimming pool is in the very early stages of the estimated 14 months it will take to construct. What plans are in place to meet the spirit of FLEGT, the UN-IPCC, the Stern Review or Local Agenda 21? What proof is there that the timber and wood products yet to be used in its completion are not illegally logged? Will the site hoarding sheets be dumped after use? And what about other materials and services to be deployed in the pool’s construction or any other construction activities in Offaly: are they sustainable, as well as environmentally and socially sensitive?

When politicians knock on your door over the coming weeks and ask for your vote, ask them what they will do to support sustainable development. Ask them what actions they will take to reduce their ‘carbon footprint’. Ask them what they will do to stop the deplorable siphoning off of natural resources from poor people in developing countries. Let them know that you do not want your children to have to pay for their lack of accountability on environmental sustainability issues. The future is in your hands.

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Irish Woodworkers for Africa Ltd. T/A Just Forests
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