To end Illegal logging and corruption, reform must go beyond piecemeal government efforts announced so far, urges NGO coalition
An illegal logging site in the Carpathian forests of Ukraine.
A group of leading Ukrainian civil society groups has today led
calls for systematic and urgent reform of Ukraine’s forest sector in letters
sent to EU and national authorities.
The five NGOs, supported by Earthsight and Swiss non-profit
Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), said a lack of political will to implement change has
meant almost all Ukrainian wood now entering local and EU markets risks being linked to corruption, illicit deforestation, environmental abuses or organised crime.
The letters sent to the EU (Ukrainian version) and Ukraine government (Ukrainian version), signed by
Environment-People-Law, Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, National
Interests Advocacy Network, Forest Initiatives and Communities, Free Svydovets,
said that such practices have gone unchecked
in the country for years.
The Carpathian Mountains, home to some of Europe’s most
biodiverse forests and the epicentre of recent floods, are of particular
concern and have long been exposed to illegal logging and environmental
However, changes must go far beyond short-term enforcement
checks and eye-catching staff changes and instead must focus on systematic
reform to root out long-standing problems.
Demands asked of the Ukraine government include:
- Firstly, and most urgently, to take steps immediately to reorganise the State Forest Agency (SAFR), by separating the controlling and economic functions, as previously called for by national and international NGOs as well as the EU.
- Ensure the formation of a quality forest policy, based on the support and preservation of environmental, social, and economic values of all forests of Ukraine in the short and long term based on the wide public consultation process
- Recognise the problem of illegal sanitary logging and illegal logging carried out by forest users themselves and start tackling it
- Ensure the activities of state forest enterprises according to the OECD principles for the management of state enterprises
- Complete the reform of State Environmental Inspectorate.
In the wake of Earthsight’s 2018 report on timber corruption in Ukraine, former Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman ordered a crack on illegal timber, but vital changes to the forestry agency at the heart of the problem failed to materialise. This time, the groups stressed, the opportunity to make substantial changes must not be wasted.
EU, as the largest consumer of timber from enterprises controlled by SAFR, must
also play its part.
EU buyers of timber made from Ukrainian wood are complicit in the problems seen
in Ukraine but are turning a blind eye to the corruption and illegality in
their supply chains, documented exhaustively by national and international
letter stressed that these buyers’ demand for an uninterrupted supply of cheap
wood from Ukraine is pressuring local actors to cut corners on the environment.
Demands asked of the EU include:
- To apply the principle of "money in exchange for reforms" to reform the forest sector, in shaping the policy of providing Ukraine with the next tranches of macro-financial assistance. To tie all present and future funding of the forestry sector in Ukraine to actual action (rather than verbal promises) by Ukraine to restructure the forestry agency to separate economic and forest-protection and regulatory functions in particular, as well as action to increase environmental enforcement
- To remember that the goal of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) is to prevent illegal timber from entering EU markets; to require stronger enforcement of these laws in the context of timber imports from Ukraine
- To this end, to finish drafting the Ukraine-specific guidelines for the EUTR, that has been stalled for months, which will require EU companies purchasing Ukrainian wood products to perform additional due diligence on their Ukrainian timber imports
- To recognise in this guidance as well as broader guidance on EUTR implementation, the significant failures of certification schemes to ensure legality or sustainability of timber from Ukraine, recently documented again in Earthsight’s 2020 report ‘’Flatpacked Forests.’’ To require EU companies to go beyond certification to ensure risk of illegal Ukrainian timber entering the EU is ‘’negligible’’ as the EUTR requires
- To call for urgent structural change of FSC International, the most well-known certification scheme for wood, to remove conflicts of interest in its certification bodies that are creating a ‘’race to the bottom’’ for who can implement standards least strictly
- To expand the product scope of the EUTR to cover all wood products including seating and furniture.