Press Release / June 5, 2009

'Vested Interests' report warns of dangers of industrial scale logging

According to a new report released by Global Witness, Vested Interests: industrial logging and carbon in tropical forests, industrial logging in primary tropical forests under the guise of "sustainable forest management" (SFM) is a major source of carbon emissions and a primary driver of deforestation.  Moreover, it could derail the UN process to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.

‘Vested Interests - industrial logging and carbon in tropical forests' documents how even the most benign form of commercial logging - known as reduced impact logging (RIL) - kills or severely damages an additional 6-10 non-target trees for every target tree cut, and releases between 10 and 80 tonnes of carbon per hectare. Also of great concern is that the roads driven through forests by logging companies, essential for RIL, render them between 4 and 8 times more likely to suffer complete deforestation than intact forests. Moreover, all forms of logging make forests far more vulnerable to fire. During the El Niño events in the late 1990s, 60% of logged forests in Indonesian Borneo went up in smoke compared with 6% of primary forest. In fact, the increase in forest fires caused by logging can be more devastating and release more carbon than the logging operations themselves.

Deforestation is responsible for 18% of global annual CO2 emissions, the reduction of which is one of the key goals of the UN Climate Change talks. At the recent negotiating meeting  in Bonn, "sustainable forest management" was championed as a key weapon in the battle against climate change. Both the timber industry and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests[1], which includes all UN organisations involved in the negotiations on forests and climate as well as the World Bank, are pushing for "SFM" to play a central role in the climate change agreement due to be finalised in Copenhagen in December 2009.  Yet "SFM" is a misleading and poorly understood concept interpreted by many to include commercial logging practices such as RIL.

Negotiators at the UN are aiming to reach an agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) by the end of the year. Once a REDD agreement is implemented post 2012, it could see upwards of $35 billion per year channelled into forest preservation.

"This is simultaneously a fantastic opportunity and a grave threat. A good REDD agreement could be a path to dramatically slowing deforestation and provide developing countries with the support and resources to keep their forests standing. This is in everyone's interests as forests are central to the fight against climate change," says Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness.

"However, there is a powerful lobby at the UN negotiations driven by the CPF, which wants to include logging as part of the mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. This wrong-headed and potentially devastating proposal is a combination of vested interests, poor science, misplaced idealism and failure to learn the lessons of history."

"The timber industry wants to access REDD funds to subsidise their emissive activities. Any agreement allowing this will fail in its primary objective because carbon emissions will increase rather than fall, and we will see yet more deforestation. Negotiators must realise that 'sustainable forest management' is a stalking horse for industrial logging and part of the problem, not part of the solution."

The report's key recommendation is that REDD funds must not be used to benefit or subsidise industrial logging operations. Instead, in addition to keeping forests standing, REDD should be regarded as an economic opportunity to pursue rural development opportunities that do not result in the industrial degradation of forests.


Rosalind Reeve; [email protected]

Patrick Alley; [email protected]

Amy Barry; [email protected]

Read the report

Key Facts and Figures From the Report

  • Intact tropical forests pull an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere each year, equivalent to one-fifth of the global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
  • Between 2000 and 2005, at least 20% of the forest biome in the world's tropical regions underwent some level of industrial logging.
  • Carbon stocks in commercially logged forests are 40-60% lower than in intact natural forests depending on the intensity of logging.
  • Even in the "best case" scenarios of "reduced impact" logging, 6 -10 trees are killed or severely damaged for every tree that is harvested. Where logging is more intense, RIL can reduce the carbon content of a natural forest by nearly 40% during a single logging rotation - most of the lost carbon ends up in the atmosphere as CO2.
  • Between 1999 and 2001, degradation from selective logging in the Brazilian Amazon released up to 80 million tonnes of carbon annually - which is more carbon than is released each year by the fourteen highest emitting coal-fired power plants in the United States.
  • During the El Niño fires of 1997-98, 60% of logged forests in Indonesian Borneo burned compared with 6% of primary forests. Across Indonesia, these fires emitted carbon equal to as much as 40% of global fossil fuel emissions over the same period
  • FAO found that, due in large part to the access provided by roads, the deforestation rate due to conversion to agricultural land was eight times higher, overall, in forests that have been logged than in undisturbed forests.
  • The Congo Basin has over 51,916 km of logging roads. Gabon alone has a network of 13,400 km of logging roads - more than the length of the German autobahn network.
  • Selective logging is a precursor to deforestation. In the Brazilian Amazon, 32% of" selectively" logged forests were cleared within four years
  • In Papua New Guinea, 24% of logged forests were cleared between 1972 and 2002.1 In Indonesia, 29% of the forest area designated for permanent timber production was deforested by 2005. Less than 1% of the original standing tree may remain in use as a solid wood product after 100 years.

1 Members of Collaborative Partnership on Forests: CIFOR - The Center for International Forestry Research; FAO -The UN Food & Agriculture Organisation; ITTO - The International Tropical Timber ; IUFRO - International Union of Forest Research Organizations; CBD - Convention on Biological Diversity; GEF - Global Environment Facility; UNCCD - UN Convention to Combat Desertification; UNFF -UN Forum on Forests; UNFCCC - UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; UNDP - UN Development Programme; UNEP - UN Environment Programme; ICRAF - World Agro-Forestry Centre; The World Bank; IUCN - World Conservation Union