Environmental Audit Committee

24 July 2002

Buying Time for Forests

The Environmental Audit Committee published today its Sixth Report.  The Chairman of the Committee, Mr John Horam MP, commented:

"In 2000 the Government promised to buy timber from sustainable and legal sources.  Our investigation has revealed an absolute failure to deliver on that commitment.  We have been unable to find any evidence of a systematic change in the pattern of public timber procurement."

"In many cases the Government seems unsure of where timber has come from, to the extent of not knowing how much of the timber it buys is imported and how much is domestically produced."

"Ministers seem to have indulged in the pleasure of saying all the right things but have done nothing about it.  With clear issues, strong public awareness and a robust certification scheme in place, timber should have been one of the easiest areas of procurement to 'green'."

Buying sustainable timber is important because illegal and unsustainable logging, which is known to take place in more than 70 countries across the world, causes irreparable damage to forests, destroying habitats vital for thousands of species of plants and animals and undermining the economic potential of some of the world's poorest people.

The EAC challenge the Government's argument that EU Public Procurement rules prevent it endorsing a particular certification scheme by highlighting the fact that France and Germany do precisely that.  It points the finger at HM Treasury rules, coupled with poor communications and huge institutional inertia, as the real barriers to greening procurement.

The Committee calls for a series of immediate and longer term actions to put Government timber procurement on the right basis, including the establishment of clear criteria for certification, thorough reporting and greater engagement with supply chains, the private sector and NGOs. The recent report on the use of timber in the Cabinet Office refurbishment says that the Government will give careful consideration to the EAC's findings. 

The Committee does however congratulates the Government for the lead it has taken internationally in brokering agreements to develop the international timber trade in a sustainable manner and in particular for its groundbreaking agreement with Indonesia to help prevent illegal logging there.

Key Recommendations and Conclusions from the Report:

While Government rhetoric has been laudable, we see no systematic or even anecdotal evidence of any significant change in the pattern of timber procurement since July 2000.  The permissive wording of the policy has left those not committed to implementation free to pay it little more than lip service (para 12).

The Government has failed to provide officials with adequate guidance on legal and sustainable timber procurement or the regulatory framework (para 20).

Lethargy in the provision of guidance on certification demonstrates a lack of commitment on the part of the Government (para 21).

The Government failed to undertake adequate research or preparatory work prior to or immediately after its July 2000 commitments on timber procurement.  As a result it hugely underestimated the scale and complexity of the challenge it was facing and failed to commit adequate priority or resources to implementation.   This in turn led to an abject failure to deliver on the promises made (para 30).

We warmly welcome the Government's recent efforts to reinvigorate implementation of the timber procurement policy and in particular the work now being undertaken by consultants.  We acknowledge the valuable role that Greenpeace have played in  stimulating recent Government activity (para 35).

Lessons learnt from experiences in the last two years should be applied in other areas of greening procurement.  Most important, adequate and thorough research should be undertaken prior to the announcement of policy changes and a clear indication of timescales for implementation given or the Government risks eroding support and fostering cynicism over its commitment to green procurement (para 38).

We welcome the preliminary work that is being undertaken through the Commission to consider the possibility of a new EU framework to enable controls on the importation of non-CITES timber species to be put in place and the Minister's support for this development (para 51).

We congratulate the Government for its groundbreaking agreement on timber with Indonesia and for pursuing similar agreements with other timber producing countries.  We encourage it to promote the use of such agreements among other EU Member States (para  52).