SI could lose natural forests by 2036: Report predicts

By Gary Hatigeva

REPORT from Anti-Corruption Non-Government Organisation, ‘Global Witness’, has revealed that if activities on unsustainable and illegal harvesting of trees continue, the Solomon Islands’ natural forests are predicted to be commercially exhausted by year 2036.

In its report that was released yesterday, Global Witness pointed out that these practices on the once untouched paradise of the Solomon Islands has triggered the alarm to go off, as it now indicated a major potential loss for the country, and these activities have also put China’s reputation as a global trading partner at risk, new reports showed.

The NGO pointed out in its report revealing satellite imagery and drone photography, how the Solomon Islands’ tropical forests often portrayed in travel magazines as ‘untouched’ are being logged at nearly twenty times the sustainable rate, with Chinese companies alone importing twelve times more than is sustainable.

The report claims that despite being the largest importer of logs from the Solomon Islands, China requires no checks to ensure timber coming from the Islands or elsewhere is not illegally or unsustainably logged.

The report finds that in 2017 alone, the Solomon Islands exported enough timber to fill Beijing’s Olympic stadium even though the entire country is less than twice the size of the Beijing municipality, with around 3 million cubic metric tonnes of logs.

“The small country is smothered in 12,613 km of logging roads: twice the length of the Yangtze River, one of the world’s longest rivers. This small group of islands is China’s second biggest source of tropical logs, after Papua New Guinea (PNG),” the report reveals.

Together, Solomon Islands and PNG supply a surprising 50 percent of China’s tropical log imports and there is evidence of widespread risk of illegality in both countries’ forest sectors Timber from the Solomon Islands is at high risk of being illegal under its domestic laws.

Records have also shown that Solomon Islands is second to PNG, in terms of logs being exported to China, more than double of the logs being imported from Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ghana and Zimbabwe, which was constantly growing in cubic metres since 2006 up to 2016.

This makes purchasing it a commercial risk for Chinese companies and China’s major wood trading partners – including the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and the EU, all of which have laws in place that require companies to check that timber is legally harvested at source.

The impact of this was seen in a recent $13 million fine of criminal charges to giant American flooring retailer, Lumber Liquidators, in relation to imports of flooring made in China using illegal wood.

The report published yesterday revealed a high risk of illegal and exploitative practices by logging companies on the ground in the country (Solomon Islands), and also showed that there is a high risk logging companies doing not to get the permission of local landowners to log in the way required by law.

It also revealed there is a high risk that companies log in prohibited places and harvest protected species, and there is also a high risk that companies do not pay the taxes they owe to the people of this country.

Global Witness through its statement called on China to put in place regulations requiring companies to carry out due diligence to check that timber is, at a minimum, and legal in its country of harvest.

The group then warned that if the practice carries on unchecked and this major carbon sink is lost, it will have disastrous and severe impacts on the country’s biodiversity as the global climate is already being pushed to danger point.

Meanwhile, Campaign Leader, Global Witness, Beibei Yin, stressed that while the Solomon Islands are marketed as a pristine tropical idyll, their investigation shows that the reality is very different.

“The hugely unsustainable rate of logging, the high risks of illegality and the fact that the industry does little to benefit local people all create a bleak picture of islands far from unspoiled or unexploited.”

“While China is taking serious and positive steps to address environmental degradation and to reduce pollution and carbon emissions at home, it is overlooking an important aspect of its ecological footprint, that the raw materials that it sources from abroad.

“If China continues to buy its wood with ‘no questions asked’ from the Solomon Islands it jeopardises its own business interests as well as efforts by its trading partners to improve governance, prevent environmental degradation, and mitigate climate change,” he stressed.

The Global Witness Campaign Leader said this revelation or report has the power and chance to make this change.

The Anti-Corruption NGO however recommended that the Solomon Islands government should immediately place a moratorium on all existing logging operations and review the issuance of their permits and the operations themselves for legal violations, and permits found to have been issued or operated illegally should be cancelled.

But until such time as a moratorium is imposed, the group stressed that the Solomon Islands government should create a publicly accessible electronic system of documents related to the issuance and oversight of logging operations

It further recommended that Solomon Islands should re-join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, extending the coverage to forestry

“The Solomon Islands should employ an independent organisation or expert company to verify the volumes, values and species of logs that are exported in order to check that the logging companies are paying the correct amount of taxes,” the concerned NGO stressed in its recommendations.

This is an issue that is not new to a Pacific Island leader, the Governor of the Northern Province in Papua New Guinea, Gary Juffa, who has taken strong stance to deal with, on behalf of his people.

Island Sun was able to catch up with Governor Juffa who was here in Honiara as guest speaker of an environmental summit to talk about his experiences on illegal logging in his country, agreed that often times, end users don’t really know their products are originated from, with bad efforts to mask where the logs are coming from.

It was however revealed that the Chinese Authorities are now working on its new efforts to make a positive contribution with regards to its activities, what is happening around the world, and how it interacts with businesses, individuals and countries.

“I’ve been approached on this, and for the first time, I see China emerging as a nation that is concerned about this subject matter, and that is a positive, it just needs to translate down this concerns down to its agencies and responsible companies,” Governor Juffa said.

Juffa also agreed to Global Witness’s call and added that one other solution to the highlighted matter can be, for the country to empower people with the right tools, so they can take the leading action to stop illegal logging in Solomon Islands, which will come at a cost and will also be challenging.

“But steps would have to be taken for this course to save our natural resources,” the outspoken Governor shared.

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