Japan Must Take More Responsibility for Eradicating Global Deforestation

Forests are shrinking across the globe. A primary cause is illegal logging. Japan, as a major consumer of timber, must make efforts to strengthen measures to eradicate this illicit practice.

In addition to housing, wood is used in various products ranging from furniture to paper. The use of timber has increased with the development of the global economy, and illegal logging has become conspicuous.

About 180 million hectares of forest were reportedly lost worldwide over the 30 years from 1990. This figure represents five times the area of Japan.

Forests absorb carbon dioxide. A decrease in forests could accelerate global warming. It is necessary to halt deforestation by preventing illegal logging.

Illegal logging refers to violations such as a failure to comply with the volume and area limits set by the laws and regulations of each country, logging in such prohibited locations as national parks and protected areas, and theft in which logging is conducted without permission on the property of others. Such illegal acts have reportedly been rampant in Southeast Asia, Russia, Africa and South America in particular.

Timber from unlawful felling is often exported from producer countries at unreasonably low prices. If governments of consumer countries have allowed these products to be purchased easily, it can be said that they are also greatly to blame.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other entities plan to require importers and lumber manufacturers to confirm that the wood they handle does not come from illegal logging. A framework is envisaged to make it possible for authorities to penalize businesses that fail to comply by taking such steps as issuing an advisory to take corrective action, publishing their names or imposing fines.

In Japan, the Law on Promotion of Use and Distribution of Legally Harvested Wood and Wood Products, the so-called Clean Wood Law, came into force in 2017 to prevent the distribution of illegally logged timber. However, its call for verification is nonbinding, and there are no penalties under the law.

Currently, only about 40% of the timber distributed in Japan, including imports, has been confirmed as legally logged, and it has been said that the law’s effectiveness is limited. It is only natural for the government to start work on revising the law.

Once illegally logged timber from foreign countries is imported and becomes available in the domestic market, it is difficult to check its legality at the processing stage. Halting criminally felled timber at the nation’s borders is the most effective solution. It is also essential for the government to collect information and provide support to importers.

Illegal logging was put on the agenda at a summit of major countries in Britain in 2005. Since then, the United States, the European Union and other parties have implemented measures accompanied by penalties to ban the trade in illegally logged timber.

As Japan has lagged behind in taking such steps, it is important for the nation to make efforts that will ensure the prevention of illegal logging.

If timber is produced domestically, it is easier to confirm whether logging was conducted illegally. For this reason, the wider use of domestic timber rather than imported products could be one measure to tackle the problem.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 28, 2023)