As UN climate negotiations open in Bonn this week, international NGO Global Witness urges China to show leadership in addressing the mounting crisis faced by the world’s tropical forests. New research shows that for the first time tropical forests are releasing more carbon than they absorb, driven by rampant logging and deforestation (1). China, as the world’s largest importer of tropical timber (2), has a responsibility to take the lead in developing measures to reduce the climate impacts of the global timber trade.
China’s massive timber trade with Papua New Guinea (PNG), home to Asia’s largest remaining tropical forest (3), was the subject of a recent investigation by Global Witness. The report, Stained Trade, documented how the PNG government is handing out vast areas of land for large-scale forest clearance, often ignoring its own laws and violating the rights of indigenous communities who own the land (4).
Deforestation rates in PNG have tripled in recent years (5), with vast areas of intact rainforest being razed. Nearly 90% of PNG's tropical log exports – the largest in the world – go to China.
Rick Jacobsen, a Senior Advisor at Global Witness said: “China’s log imports from Papua New Guinea, much of it cut illegally, are accelerating the loss of rainforests and harming the indigenous communities who own them. This is a big step backwards on the commitments both countries made under the Paris Agreement to do their parts to stop deforestation.”
Deforestation and forest degradation contribute to climate change by releasing vast stores of carbon in forests, while reducing their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon emissions from tropical forest loss account for an estimated 15% of all human-caused emissions globally (6).
In PNG alone, over six billion tonnes of carbon are stored in its forests (7). The country has identified reducing deforestation and sustainably managing its forests as its primary climate mitigation contribution under the Paris Agreement, but illegal and unsustainable logging has continued unabated. An area of forest larger than Switzerland was leased for large-scale commercial agriculture in recent years, but an official government inquiry determined the majority of the leases violated Papua New Guinean law.
China is the destination for about two-thirds of all tropical logs on international markets, the majority of which comes from countries like PNG struggling to address corruption and weak rule of law that lead to illegal logging. The annual worldwide value of the illegal timber trade is estimated at more than USD$30 billion, representing at least 10% of the global timber trade (8). The US and EU have put in place laws prohibiting the trade in illegal timber.
Jacobsen said: "China’s leadership in global efforts to tackle climate change is more important than ever, and one area where it can have an immediate and far-reaching impact is in cleaning up its timber trade. As a first step, we are calling on the Chinese government to enact measures to prevent illegal timber from entering its markets.”
- Baccini, A et al. Science, 13 October 2017. Available at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6360/230, the authors used satellite data from 2003 -2014 to determine how the aboveground carbon density has changed throughout the entire tropics. They found that the tropics are a net carbon source, with losses owing to deforestation and reductions in carbon density within standing forests being double that of gains resulting from forest growth.
- China imports about two-third of all tropical logs on international markets, and roughly a third of all types of tropical timber products, based on official trade data from source countries and China. More details can be found at: http://www.itto.int/annual_review/
- The largest contiguous area of tropical rainforest in Asia is on the island of New Guinea, about half of which is part of Papua New Guinea, the other half part of Indonesia.
- Stained Trade, a report published by Global Witness in August 2017, traced a 9,000 mile supply chain from rainforests in Papua New Guinea, where illegal logging is rampant, through China’s manufacturing sector to retail shelves in the U.S. For more information, please read the report: www.globalwitness.org/PNG
- Analysis by Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA presented on the Global Forest Watch web platform at: http://www.globalforestwatch.org/country/PNG
- This figure takes into account total carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation and carbon sinks in tropical forests between 1990 and 2010. See review by Houghton, R. Journal of Carbon Management, 10 April 2014 (published online). Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4155/cmt.13.41
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment: Country Report Papua New Guinea 2014. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-az303e.pdf
- UNEP/INTERPOL, 2012, Green Carbon, Black Trade, available at: http://wedocs.unep.org/handle/20.500.11822/8030