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  • At this week’s COP27 climate summit, the US government reiterated its commitment to ending global deforestation, a major driver of the climate emergency.
  • However, as a recent major research report by Earthsight and Mongabay showed, the US continues to contribute to illegal deforestation abroad through its unrestricted consumption of the resulting goods.
  • This opinion piece argues that if the United States truly aspires to leadership on forests, the United States must first put its own house in order by improving and better enforcing existing legislation that prohibits imports of stolen timber and passing urgently draft legislation to extend these controls to “forest risk products”. ‘like beef and soy.
  • This post is a comment. The opinions expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The world is waking up to the climate crisis. But time is short. It is a problem, then, that the populations of the rich countries responsible for this impending disaster are ignorant of the extent to which their own actions are driving it. The long and complex supply chains of globalization mean that the impacts of our consumption are hidden from us.

Our impact on forests is one example. As my organization’s research has repeatedly shown, precious rainforests are razed, indigenous people are abused, and environmental defenders are killed to provide our everyday goods. If American shoppers could see what they are complicit in, they would want these products taken off the shelves.

Now we have the opportunity to do just that. A bill currently in Congress, the US Forestry Act, would ban the importation of agricultural goods such as soybeans and beef produced abroad on land illegally logged.

Up to 90% of the forests cut and burned in the Brazilian Amazon are illegally logged for these products. This is not subsistence farming but big business; much of it is export driven. Laws like the US Forestry Act could help stop this destruction by choking off much of the cash that funded it.

These laws must be passed urgently. To be effective, however, they must also be well designed and properly implemented and enforced. Lessons must be learned from past failures. The US banned imports of illegally logged timber 14 years ago. However, as our latest report, The Fixers, dramatically demonstrates, the suspicious wood keeps coming in.

Through leaked documents, court documents and interviews with prosecutors, Earthsight and Mongabay revealed a catalog of crimes by one of Brazil’s largest exporters of tropical wood products. Bribery of officials. Links to the largest illegal timber bust in Brazilian history. Bleaching of wood worth millions. Illegal timber handling from a precious indigenous reserve.

Credit: Samuel Bono/Earthsight

Despite many of these scandals already in the public domain and the celebrated U.S. ban on illegal timber, over the past five years the Brazilian company involved has been able to ship land to the U.S. with a retail value of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Its products are sold across the United States, including in branches of home improvement giant Menards.

The U.S. ban on illegal timber has failed for a number of reasons, primarily because it failed to recognize the reality of importing from a place like Brazil, where the illegality of the goods can be difficult to prove and is encouraged even by high government officials.

In the European Union, lawmakers have reversed the burden of proof, requiring importers to trace these products back to the source and prove they are legitimate. This same rule should apply to laws related to US imports of “forest hazard commodities,” including timber.

In 2021, the Biden administration unveiled its “Plan to Conserve Global Forests” with laudable goals, but these efforts will fail if they fail to recognize the truth about what causes deforestation: the limitless power of wood and ‘agribusiness and the corruption and government failures it causes. . Calls to forest countries to do more will fall on deaf ears as long as the US continues to profit from the destruction. After all, no one listens to a hypocrite.

Export of wood to the USAExport of wood to the USA. Image from Earthsight

Sam Lawson is the director of Earthsight.

Source: If America Aspires to Climate Leadership, It Must Break Its Addiction to Deforestation Products (Commentary)