China is central to the laundering of illegal timber from some of the world's most endangered forests, according to a new investigative report by Greenpeace. The trade is driven by domestic and international demand in the USA, Europe, Japan and other developed countries.

'Sharing the Blame: Global Consumption and China's Role in Ancient Forest Destruction' (1), documents illegally logged timber, particularly from the Paradise Forests of Asia Pacific (2), being shipped to China. There, it is made into furniture, flooring and plywood for domestic consumption and for export to satisfy the rising, global demand for inexpensive wood products.

China is now the world's largest importer of tropical woods: half of all tropical trees logged globally end up in China. Much of this wood comes from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where between 76 to 90 per cent of the logging is illegal.

Illegal logging is rampant in many of the countries that supply China with wood and this destructive trade is fueling the global forest crisis, said Sze Pang Cheung, deputy campaign director for Greenpeace China. China has committed internationally to tackle this problem and must, together with all countries that import these wood products, take urgent concrete action to ban the trade in timber from illegal or destructive logging. 

The report applauds some international buyers for starting to address the issue of illegal logging. Recently, numerous companies in Europe have committed to stop purchasing Chinese plywood made from illegally logged timber from Papua New Guinea. These include Wolseley (UK), PontMeyer (Netherlands), Castorama (France) and the French Federation of Timber Importers (Le Commerce du Bois).

However, the report concludes that the world's forests cannot sustain current consumption patterns in developed countries and China's escalating demand. China's hunger for wood is already driving more trees to be felled.

In the last 10 years alone, China's total consumption of wood products increased by 70%. A third of this was due to increase in exports of wood products and 66% to increases in domestic consumption. Greenpeace warns that if China were to increase its per capita paper consumption to that of the USA, for example, this would require nearly 1.6 billion additional cubic metres of wood to be logged - equivalent to the Earth's entire yearly harvest.

Today, it is North America, Europe, Japan and other developed countries that consume more ancient forests than anyone else.

"There's massive over-consumption of wood products in developed regions such as North America and Europe - said Tamara Stark, international advisor to Greenpeace China. - If the world's ancient forests are to survive, consumption levels in these countries has to drop dramatically."

This month, China acknowledged that the environmental impact of consumption is a serious issue, with Premier, Wen Jiabao's, call to the country to reduce consumption of wood. Just last week, the Chinese Government announced a 5% consumption tax on hardwood flooring and disposable chopsticks.

It's positive that China is taking steps to address wasteful consumption of wood products, but the scale pf the problem warrants nothing less than a new vision of development said Sze Pang Cheung.

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