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[YRP Students' Essays] Facing the Global Crisis of Illegal Logging

Introduction

Japanese people use much paper every day, which is made of wood. Many things in Japan are made of wood, for example, disposable chopsticks. Chinese and Koreans also use chopsticks, but they are made of iron or plastic. In addition, much wood is used to build houses in Japan. Paper is used to make fusuma sliding doors and wallpaper. As a result, a great amount of wood is imported for use in Japan. The yearly demand for wood in Japan is estimated to be 87,180,000 cubic meters. 71,040,000 of it is imported, and 11,650,000 is from domestic supply. In other words, Japan relies on imports from foreign countries for more than 80% of its wood consumption. Forest covers 70% of the whole country of Japan. So it is surprising that the wood Japan uses is only 18% from its own forests (Oshima & Honmei, 2006). This is mainly because of circumstances that conspire to make imported wood cheaper than domestic wood.

This article will focus on illegal logging in developing countries. In countries where wood is produced, illegal logging or felling has become common. By definition, this is an illegal economic activity and a crime. There are three types of illegal logging. One is felling by people who do not have permission to cut down trees. Second is felling which is conducted outside of the designated area. Finally, there is deception in felling reports. In other words, reports contain false data. Wood which was obtained illegally by such an activity often circulates to other countries including Japan through a black market.

What countries are involved in illegal logging? In addition, what are the circumstances in those countries? Actually, illegal felling is conducted in a number of countries for a variety of reasons.

The Circumstances of Indonesia and Singapore

According to a survey, about 70% of wood exported from Indonesia is produced from illegal logging. Every year, about 2 million hectares of forest are destroyed by illegal felling (Oshima & Honmei, 2006, p.35). According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the market for illegal felling is worth billions of dollars every year (n.d.). Ironically, the amount is equal to the money spent on overseas development assistance every year by Japan. As a result of not stopping this illegal trade, Japan is said to assist those developing countries with its right hand while exploiting them with its left hand.

The Indonesian government tries to take measures against the problem of illegal logging. There is a presidential decree to prohibit illegal felling, and a campaign to prohibit the illegal trade has been conducted. After the economic crisis at the end of the 1990s, Indonesia was democratized and decentralization advanced. But as a side effect, local influential persons have been scrambling for natural resources. Wood is especially attractive as a cash crop, so influential people in Indonesia sell wood in parcels.

Surprisingly, there are whole businesses revolving around illegal logging. When people offer wood which has been produced by illegal felling, criminal organizations are mobilized, with bribes and so forth. According to a survey by EIA, a logging supplier conspires with a military garrison or local government officials, and they hand over wood to business partners in another country (2003).

Singapore is functioning as a hub for the wood smuggling business in Southeast Asia. Even influential paper manufacturing companies are suspected of having relations with illegal loggers. Overseas Chinese collaborate in this illegal trade. The payment to a Papuan is only 11 dollars per square meter of wood. However, when this wood enters Shanghai, the same amount of wood is worth 240 dollars. Thus the overseas Chinese can make a large profit on the deal. This wood is processed in China, and many of its products are imported into Japan. As a result of this cycle, Japanese may profit the most, while Papuans suffer the greatest loss (Oshima & Honmei, 2006, p.12).

Military Regimes Make Money by Illegal Logging

In Burma, the military regime openly conducts logging that is illegal by international standards. The Myanmar military regime that seized power over Burma has absorbed American economic sanctions. But the regime is close to China as a strategic partner. The regime sells wood from illegal felling to China and Thailand. Lacking concern for the Burmese environment, wood has become their greatest export item. The government administers the country with the proceeds from illegal felling. Tropical rain forests in Burma continue to fall to ruin (Imura, 2001, p.56). According to WRI, 70% of the wood from illegal logging which is imported into Thailand is made in Burma (2003). Japan in turn imports wood chips from Thailand.

Vietnam has a military-backed regime, which similarly makes money by directly conducting illegal logging. According to a survey, forests in Vietnam will disappear by 2020 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008). The top people of the country take money which is made by illegal logging. After all, the government of such countries is dependent on illegal felling, even though such logging is an economic crime.

It is difficult to solve this problem. There are many countries with military regimes, which cannot collect enough money in legitimate ways. How can this illegal trade that endangers the global environment be curtailed?

The Circumstances of Russia

In Russia, illegal logging has become widespread. "Russian forests, which account for 25 percent of the world's forests, became a source of wood in the 1990s when the amount of rainforests decreased" (Daily Yomiuri, 2006). The main reason is that illegal felling is a lucrative business in Russia. Moreover, people who conduct illegal felling are not punished. That is, there is only a weak law against illegal felling in Russia. Vladimir Putin said that there was a policy proposal to combat illegal felling. However, this policy had the opposite effect. It includes both a "national environmental protection committee" and the "abolition of the federal forest stations." This policy promoted illegal felling even more, because 200,000 officials administering forests were cut down to only 9,000.

Illegal wood from Russia is sold to Japan, Korea, and China. According to a survey by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1999 Japan imported 300,000 cubic meters of wood from Russia. Its value was 24 million dollars, equivalent to about 2,500,000,000 Japanese yen at the time (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008). Though the G8 countries pledge to wrestle with the issue of illegal felling, Russia is the greatest wood exporter among the countries which conduct illegal felling. As members of the G8, Russia and Japan must not forget the promises that they have made to protect the forests of the world.

Global Impact of the Loss of Rainforests in the Amazon

Recently, the problem of illegal logging has become increasingly serious in the Amazon region. The area of forest which was lost in ten years is twice as large as the area of Portugal or Uruguay. 20% of the tropical rainforests in the Amazon have been lost in the past 40 years. To make matters worse, another more than 20% of the remaining forest will be lost in 20 years. If that happens, the ecosystem of the forests may collapse. In addition, deforestation in the Amazon is tied to global warming in a vicious circle. In the Amazon, drought is becoming a serious problem. As a result of this, forest fires have become more frequent. No country can ignore the collapse of tropical rainforests.

Conclusion

In conclusion, in recent years illegal logging has become one of the crises of life in the world. Regrettably, Japan is also part of the problem. In fact, many countries conduct illegal felling. According to a survey, more than 50% of wood which is produced in Indonesia is cut down illegally. Moreover, 10% of wood which is produced in Russia is felled illegally. In those countries it is a matter of economics. Wood which is produced illegally is very cheap. As a result, many countries conduct illegal felling in order to receive a large amount of money (Kira, 2001, p.21). While the economic gains are quick, the loss is long-term for their own countries as well as for the world.

To solve this problem, every country has to cooperate with other countries. International organizations including the World Bank and NGOs have to work with the governments involved on both the supply and the demand sides of this illegal trade in wood products. Also, governments have to make more severe laws. Every country has to guard the trade of wood against black markets. If organizations which guard trade find illegal activities, they must punish the smuggling companies as soon as possible. To find ways to prevent illegal felling, experts from each country need to suggest effective ideas. To exchange proposals, NGOs and NPOs should hold international conferences frequently.

To a great extent because of illegal logging, the forests of the world are threatened with extinction. The disappearance of forests would cause the extinction of biological diversity and threaten human life on earth. Therefore we have to prevent the disappearance of forests as urgently as possible. Even though illegal felling is a difficult problem, every country in the world has to face the consequences, so everyone must think about it seriously. In addition, all countries, including NGOs and NPOs, have to act to solve the problem of illegal logging at the grass-roots level. One thing we can do as individuals is to support environmentalist groups acting to solve this global issue.

References

Daily Yomiuri (2006, July 26). Illegal logging.

EIA (2003, October 23). A survey about forests.

Imura, T. (2001). Mori to kankyou wo kangaeru [To think about forest and environment]. Tokyo: Maruzen.

Inoue, M. (2003). Ajia ni okeru shinrin no shoushitsu to hozen [Loss and maintenance of forests in Asia]. Tokyo: Chuuou Houki Shuppan.

Kira, T. (2001). Shinrin no kankyo [Forest environment]. Tokyo: Shinano.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (n.d.). Asia Forest Partnership.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan (2008, December 5). The condition of illegal felling.

Oshima, K & Honmei, J. (2006). Nyu furontia kokusai kankeigaku [A new frontier in international relations]. Tokyo: Toushindou.

Taylor, G. (1998). Okawa, S., trans., Chikyuu ni mirai wa aruka [Does the earth have a future?]. Tokyo: Misuzu Shobou.

The World Bank (2003, April 4). Forest environment.

Yamagishi, K. (2001). Shinrin kankyou no keizaigaku [Economics of the forest environment]. Tokyo: Shin Nihon Shuppansha.

 

Child Research Net would like to thank Osaka Jogakuin College and Sayuri Nomoto, student and author, for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.

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