There can be no excuses for the logging that is destroying the world's rainforests

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The Independent Online

Many years have passed since we were first exhorted to "Save the Rainforest". It would be wonderful to relate that - over that time - their erosion has been halted, or at least slowed. But, sadly, the destruction continues apace. By some estimates, the world's rainforests are on course to disappear completely by midway through this century.

Many years have passed since we were first exhorted to "Save the Rainforest". It would be wonderful to relate that - over that time - their erosion has been halted, or at least slowed. But, sadly, the destruction continues apace. By some estimates, the world's rainforests are on course to disappear completely by midway through this century.

This is something shoppers should bear in mind next time they buy garden furniture. As we report today, Britain's biggest garden centre - Wyevale - sells furniture made from teak from the Burmese rainforest. The company is not breaking the law. Importing and selling timber of dubious provenance is perfectly legal in Britain. But Wyevale is undoubtedly complicit in the degradation of one of our most precious global resources. And so are many of its customers. While people are content to buy timber that comes from unsustainable areas, the world's rainforests will continue to shrink.

Those who would defend the destruction of the rainforests often cite "development" as an excuse. They argue that the world's rainforests are situated in poor countries - Brazil, Indonesia, Congo, Burma - and that to place heavy restrictions on logging and deforestation is to deny millions the opportunity to escape poverty. The Brazilian government frequently argues that it must clear areas of forest to build roads and lay power lines. Other countries defend their right to earn a living through logging.

But this does not stand up to close scrutiny. Most of the logging that goes on is not done by government contractors in a sustainable fashion. It is done by gangsters in the most reckless way imaginable. In Indonesia, the habitats of endangered species have been destroyed and local tribes driven out. The driving force behind the clearances in Brazil is the greed of ranchers, eager to make a profit out of soybean crops and cattle grazing. And the government in Burma is not interested in development. It has exploited the country's rainforests simply to shore up its brutal grip on power.

There are suggestions that the mood is turning against the loggers in the developing world. In February, Dorothy Stang, a veteran anti-logging campaigner, was murdered in Brazil. This seems to have, finally, shocked the Brazilian Government into action. President Lula Da Silva has now established a vast national protection zone in the Amazon rainforest.

But no one seriously believes that the logging will stop while there is still a demand in developed countries for hard wood from the rainforests. Earlier this month, the G8 environment and development ministers met in Derby. One of the few things to emerge from their meeting was a resolution to tackle illegal logging. They vowed to "encourage public procurement policies that favour legal timber". But they could have done more good by establishing a system to verify the origin of timber imported to all G8 countries - something that EU Development Commissioner, Louis Michel, insists is technically feasible.

There is a strong sense that the international community is still turning a blind eye to the destruction of the rainforests. The world's governments would do well to remember that rampant logging is also exacerbating the effects of global warming. The world's forests play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Britain has no reason to be proud of its record in this area. Half of the tropical timber imports to the European Union are illegally cut. And the UK is the biggest importer of such wood. Our Government must give its backing to a European directive that would ban the import and sale of illegally logged timber. Shoppers should avoid buying any new timber products that do not have the certification of the Forest Stewardship Council - something that guarantees the timber has been logged from environmentally friendly sources. This is the least the conscientious consumer can do.

Every two seconds, an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch is destroyed. It is not too late to save these green havens of ecological diversity, but time is rapidly running out.

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