China, the world’s largest timber importer, issued a new draft of its first Forest Law update in 20 years that adds a prohibition on buying illegally sourced timber, but limits how the law is enforced.
Since it banned commercial logging in its own natural forests in 2016, China has become a major driver of deforestation and logging in protected forests in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
A final version of the law is expected to be released before China hosts the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity summit late next year in Kunming. The National People’s Congress released a draft of amendments to the law for public comment on Oct. 31. A review period runs through Nov. 29.
Difficult to Enforce
The latest draft includes updated language stating that timber from illegal sources shouldn’t be purchased. However, it also says that forestry authorities would only be allowed to seize timber if there is evidence that it is from an illegal source.
“In general these provisions still carry the potential risks of difficult enforcement, not applying to traders, and low penalties,” said Jo Blackman, head of forests policy at Global Witness, an international organization monitoring natural resource exploitation.
Blackman said the burden of proof would be on government departments, making it difficult to enforce the law. Traders play a crucial role in timber supply chains and should be undertaking due diligence to ensure they are not trading in illegally harvested timber, and so they should be included in the scope of the law, she said.
The law doesn’t go far enough to establish a legal framework for requiring supply chain due diligence to prevent purchasing, trading, or importing illegal sourced timber, such as frameworks used in the U.S., European Union and Australia, she said.
Since a campaign began in 1999 to plant trees on marginal land and cropland that once was forest, China has afforested 69 million acres, increasing forest coverage by 32% by 2015.
Several studies, such as one by Princeton University in 2018, have found that most afforestation has been through single species monoculture planting and that these tree plantations don’t support biodiversity and are less successful for sequestering carbon dioxide emissions.