The Australian Parliament today passed an historic Bill that will criminalise the import or processing of timber products from illegal sources.
What may be more surprising is the fact that WWF, Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society and other ‘green’ groups stood side by side with major industry players – including Bunnings, IKEA and Kimberly-Clark – and social justice groups such as Oxfam and Uniting Church, to support the Bill. This is no mean feat given the forest sector’s long history of fierce debate.
The reason for this unlikely alliance is because illegal logging is not just an environmental issue; it’s also an economic and a social concern. According to the World Bank, illegal logging is estimated to generate approximately US$10–15 billion annually in criminal proceeds, while also depriving local communities of their rights and livelihoods in some of the poorest parts of the world.
Passage of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill places Australia alongside the US, EU and others in cracking down on this global scourge; and in doing so, helping to reduce pressure on critical habitats, protect community livelihoods, and level the playing field for legitimate businesses everywhere.
This is not to suggest that the battle against illegal logging is won. While this Bill is an encouraging step, ensuring an impact in the forest will require strong, carefully designed regulations that strike a balance between effective enforcement and incentives for compliance. The devil will be in the detail.
Implementing the Bill will require continued collaboration between industry and environmental groups; to demonstrate that protecting human and natural capital means protecting future profitability.
At the same time, legality should not be seen as the end game. While strong regulations can shut the door on irresponsible operators, there remains a need for continuous improvement by industry leaders, based on performance standards that are not just legal, but genuinely sustainable.