Illegal logging is the harvesting of timber in contravention of the laws and regulations of the country of harvest. Illegal logging is a global problem with significant negative economic, environmental and social impact.
In economic terms illegal logging results in lost revenues and other foregone benefits. In environmental terms illegal logging is associated with deforestation, climate change and a loss of biodiversity. In social terms illegal logging can be linked to conflicts over land and resources, the disempowerment of local and indigenous communities, corruption and armed conflicts.
Illegal activities also undermine the efforts of responsible operators by making available cheaper but illegal timber and timber products in the market place.
The European Union's policy to fight illegal logging and associated trade was defined back in 2003 with the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The key regions and countries targeted in the FLEGT Action Plan, which together contain nearly 60% of the world’s forest and supply a large proportion of internationally traded timber, are Central Africa, Russia, Tropical South America and Southeast Asia. The FLEGT Action Plan covers both supply and demand side measures to address illegal logging, and was endorsed by the EU Council of Ministers in November 2003.
The FLEGT Action Plan has led to two key pieces of legislation:
However the EU response has not been limited to legislative measures. The EU has sought to increase demand for legal and sustainable timber and timber products by encouraging both private and public sector procurement policies that give preference to legally harvested timber and timber products.
In the public sector these form part of a broader effort to "green" public procurement policies. An increasing number of EU Member States are adopting green public procurement policies requiring timber and timber products to be from legal and sustainable sources. Countries implementing such policies include Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK.
Many EU private sector timber trade and retail federations and companies have made commitments through Codes of Conduct to eliminate illegally harvested timber from their supply chains. In addition some banks have put in place policies to ensure their clients are not associated with illegal logging activities.
Capacity-building is an important element of the FLEGT Action Plan, particularly for developing countries. The Commission is working with the EU Member States to provide such capacity-building through its development cooperation instruments including support to NGOs and private sector actions.
In July 2014 the European Commission started an evaluation of the first 11 years of implementation (2003-2014) of the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). The evaluation was based on a wide-ranging consultation process that included an independent evaluation undertaken by an external consultant, surveys, single and multi-stakeholder workshops, targeted interviews, as well as unsolicited inputs from stakeholders. The evaluation process was concluded with the release of a Commission's Staff Working Document.
In 2015, the European Court of Auditors carried out a performance audit, focusing on EU support to timber‑producing countries. It acknowledged that the FLEGT Action Plan remains the most powerful EU tool to support a political dialogue on forests, particularly in developing countries. The audit recommended the establishment of a work plan with objectives, priorities, deadlines and a specific budget that takes into account the capacities and limitations of countries. In 2016, the Commission carried out an evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan, which confirmed “the relevance and the innovative design of the FLEGT Action Plan, and its important contribution to the international fight against illegal logging and associated trade”. In its conclusions of June 2016, the Council stressed that "prioritisation of activities, especially regarding the VPAs, is urgently needed" and invited the Commission, in close cooperation with the Member States, to "develop a detailed and coordinated work plan that reprioritises current areas of activities, gives clarity on objectives, establishes milestones to track progress, and facilitates monitoring, while avoiding duplications of efforts. The work plan should describe the roles and commitments of the Commission, EU delegations, and Member States, and leave some room for flexibility.” In a Resolution, the European Parliament called on the Commission to “streamline and better coordinate its efforts to fight illegal logging". The Work Plan 2018-2022 for the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan sets out the response of the Commission services and the Member States to the above findings and recommendations, while contributing to implementing the new political commitments as set in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the new European consensus on Development.