Thursday, 18 June 2009

Merbau NZ Connection

Maire Leadbeater: How we can help the fight against global warming without trying
4:00AM Thursday Jun 18, 2009
By Maire Leadbeater

[...] Around 80 per cent of the illegally logged wood coming into New Zealand is kwila, (also known as merbau) favoured for decking and outdoor furniture because of its hardy qualities.

Policy papers emphasised Government concern that illegal logging was driving deforestation and contributing to global warming. But instead of banning illegally logged woods, a softer programme of "preventive" measures was agreed.

These measures included dialogue with wood exporting countries, educating consumers and a plan to introduce better labelling of furniture and other wood products. The Government also undertook to join the international effort to have kwila[kayu merbau], which is listed as a threatened species with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Our new Government appears to be backing away from its predecessor's plans for education and mandatory labelling of products. This means that consumers won't get information about whether a product has been made from legally sourced wood unless the retail outlet has its own code of practice.

Forestry Minister David Carter also hopes that international climate change negotiations will result in developing countries getting money for protecting their forests - thus reducing the "drivers" for deforestation and illegal logging.

But this approach to forest crime is not much help to a country like Indonesia, which has already signalled it needs help to deal to the demand end of the problem. Local leaders in West Papua have banned the export of unprocessed logs and rough sawn timber, but export controls are weak and frequently breached.

In 2005 it was revealed that 300,000 cubic metres of kwila were being smuggled out of West Papua every month and sent to China. Enforcement action was taken and the trade reduced - for a time.

While there are vast "no questions asked" markets for illegal wood, it is a sure thing that the timber barons will continue to bribe and manoeuvre their way around local legislation.

Why the softly, softly approach? Former Forestry Minister Jim Anderton worried that a ban could "be vulnerable to challenge under the WTO [World Trade Organisation] and create potential risks for New Zealand's wider trading interests".

However, in contrast to New Zealand's laissez-faire approach, Europe and the United States are tightening their controls on illegally logged wood. Last year the US banned the import of all plant products that were sourced outside the law in their country of origin and imposed strict requirements on importers.

This year the European Union adopted stricter certification rules on timber sold within the bloc's markets.

Member states must move towards an effective system of labelling all products and there will be an EU-wide system of penalties and sanctions.

Almost all of the kwila coming to New Zealand is sourced from the island of New Guinea, which holds the last large stretches of undisturbed forest in the Asia-Pacific region. The island, which is shared by Indonesian controlled West Papua and the independent nation Papua New Guinea, holds a treasure trove of biodiversity.

For the indigenous people the forest offers natural medicines, vegetables, fruits, fish and animals, as well as all the materials for houses, traditional boats, firewood and fences. A West Papuan saying is: "The forest is our mother."

Greenpeace estimates remaining kwila will be gone within 35 years but that takes into account only legally sanctioned logging. Kwila grows sparsely - five to 10 trees a hectare. It takes 75-80 years to grow to maturity and has a spreading canopy. It is not hard to imagine the destruction caused by selectively felling this lovely tree.

Greenpeace insists that for every current use of kwila there is an alternative sustainably sourced wood that will do the job. Eucalyptus and macrocarpa match up well in terms of durability and hardiness.

Radiata pine continues to be the most popular decking wood. If there is any "sacrifice" involved in choosing a pine deck it is minimal if deforestation costs are taken into account.

Scientists say that when it comes to greenhouse gas production, tropical forest destruction is second only to the energy sector. Deforestation amounts to between 18 per cent and 25 per cent of the global emission load of greenhouse gases.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee has been promoting a simple "don't buy kwila" message and has been delighted that some major retailers have decided to discontinue stocking kwila. However, we were disturbed when Mr Carter said our campaign showed that the voluntary approach is effective.

We have no illusions that dialogue and demonstrations can be a substitute for government action, when profits are to be made. A quick internet search for kwila products on sale locally proves this point.

When it comes to the air we breathe and the forests that nurture us, relying on a voluntary code makes no sense. We need strong government action.

* Maire Leadbeater is spokeswoman for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

Copyright ©2009, APN Holdings NZ Limited