1. Agriculture World

New Campaign in Lower Mekong Basin Aims to Stop Illegal Rosewood Logging

Rosewood, which is known for its dark red colour and dense bark, has traditionally been used to make furniture and is valued at tens of thousands of dollars per cubic metre. Almost all rosewood logs are shipped to China, where rosewood furniture is extremely popular, resulting in unsustainable demand.

Shivam Dwivedi
Rosewood Logging
Rosewood Logging

Forests support life on Earth; they cover approximately 30% of the land surface and provide habitat for the majority of terrestrial plant and animal species. This year, ‘International Day of Forests’ also marks the launch of a UN-REDD and a UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration campaign aimed at Chinese urban consumers. The campaign aims to shift consumer preferences away from rosewood and toward wood products sourced sustainably.

Rosewood, which is known for its dark red colour and dense bark, has traditionally been used to make furniture and is valued at tens of thousands of dollars per cubic metre. Almost all rosewood logs are shipped to China, where rosewood furniture is extremely popular, resulting in unsustainable demand.

"Improved forest governance, trade, and investments are critical to combating illegal logging, trafficking, and other forms of forest crime in the region," said Mario Boccucci, Director of the UN-REDD Secretariat. "To support progress on this issue, an innovative UN-REDD initiative on sustainable forest trade in the Lower Mekong region (UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative) was developed."

Forests nourish rivers and provide drinking water to nearly half of the world's cities. They also play an important role in fighting climate change by absorbing 30% of emissions from industry and fossil fuels. Global net emissions could be reduced by up to 30% by reducing deforestation and forest degradation and encouraging regrowth and restoration. Forests could provide up to 50% of the cost-effective mitigation available over the next decade.

Nonetheless, forests and the biodiversity they contain are under severe threat, with much of it due to illegal conversion to agricultural land. According to a 2020 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 420 million hectares of forest, an area larger than India, have been lost over the last 30 years due to conversion to other land uses. Another 100 million hectares are in jeopardy.

According to the report, deforestation and forest degradation are also continuing at an alarming rate. It warned that unless dramatic changes were made in the agroforestry, agribusiness, and agriculture sectors, the UN Sustainable Development Goals would not be met by 2030.

National behavioural change campaigns against forest crime are being developed and implemented in Lower Mekong countries and China as part of the Lower Mekong initiative.

"Rosewood is the world's most valuable endangered species, but it's also an important part of Chinese culture," said Emelyne Cheney, a UNEP Forests and Climate expert. "Our campaign in China will highlight the threat that current purchasing habits pose to the longevity of this important symbol while also celebrating Chinese cultural heritage by promoting traditional-style furniture made from sustainable, forest-friendly materials."

The amount of rosewood smuggled into China is difficult to quantify. "Each country has its own legislation [addressing this]," said Akiko Inoguchi, FAO's Forestry Officer and the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative's lead.

Across the region, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a critical international conservation tool for ensuring that forest trade does not endanger wildlife species' survival.

"Illegal logging is still a major issue." "This is due to the difficulty in raising awareness and capacity among enforcement officers along the many border crossings to detect and identify timber species," said Inoguchi. "They are not always aware of the (various) types of species and whether or not they are endangered."

Overall, however, progress has been made. At the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference last year, more than 140 world leaders pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

Exports to China from the Lower Mekong countries (Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam) have dropped by more than 90% since 2014. This decline has occurred as a result of export restrictions, the listing of some rosewood species on the CITES list, and a decrease in demand in China as a result of the increased availability of less expensive lookalikes from Africa.

As a convener and catalyst, UNEP has played a critical role in advancing the global movement to slow deforestation, which has had an impact from Vietnam to Ecuador.

"Our campaign will work with local furniture stores and influencers to reach mainstream Chinese consumers and create a new narrative around more sustainable wood choices," Cheney said. "We will emphasize the value of rosewood not only for our environment, society, and economies but also for the preservation of our rich cultural heritage." It is more valuable to remain to stand than to be felled."

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