Illegal and destructive logging is threatening the future of the world's last remaining ancient forests. Yet while the G8 countries have made public commitments to promote sustainable forest management, the problems of illegal production and trade of wood and wood products continue to grow. In Indonesia, Cameroon and the Brazilian Amazon estimates for the amount of logs produced illegally have reached devastating numbers. Over half of all the timber coming from Cameroon, the largest tropical timber- producing country in Africa, is logged illegally.
In many countries, vegetation, forests, savannahs and agricultural lands are burnt to clear land and change its use. Forest clearing accelerates as populations expand and pressures to exploit natural resources increase. Much of the expansion into forested areas uses the cheapest form of cover removal: fire. Thus increased pressure for development has led to much of the recent fire damage in tropical rain forests as loggers, cattle farmers and peasants take advantage of the dry season to clear land for farming.
The FAO estimates that the areas being deforested each year amount to 17 million hectares while areas planted amount to only 1,150 thousand hectares – a ratio of less than 11 : 1. Japan, Europe and the USA consume 66 million cubic metres of tropical hardwood a year. That is a 1500% increase in the past 30 years.
Despite international protest, the provincial government of British Columbia agreed to the 1993 logging of 60% of the Clayoquot Sound forest of Vancouver Island, considered one of its last industrially untouched areas.
In Indonesia and South America, much of the blame for starting fires fell on small farmers. But only 12 per cent of the forest cleared in the Amazon is actually used for arable farming. The remaining 88 per cent is used for pasture. New areas are usually made accessible for ranching and agriculture as a result of the construction of logging roads to extract mahogany (WWF 1997).
In Indonesia, millions of dollars in taxes and royalties are lost each year due to the smuggling, theft and looting of timber. In the Brazilian Amazon, government estimates show that 80% of timber is produced illegally.
A report released on the 7th April 2000 highlighted the involvement of the group of the eight leading industrialised countries, G8, in illegal timber trade and the failure of the G8 to live up to its own commitments on fighting illegal logging. The G8 environment ministers are expected to review the progress made on their commitments to obtain sustainable forest management around the world. In the report, Against the Law, four case studies illustrate the G8 and European Union's involvement in illegal timber trade. This report marks the latest development that highlights the illegality and corruption within the timber trade. A report prepared by the Government of Cameroon documents that French and Italian logging companies are deeply involved in illegal logging in that country's rainforests. The report is the result of extensive government field investigations in Cameroon's Eastern province where most of the current logging is taking place. The main findings are very alarming, with all but one of the logging companies investigated found to be operating against the law. Within the G8, no less than 4 major French logging companies and one Italian logging company were found to be acting illegally. Together these companies control more than 34 percent of active logging concessions in Cameroon.