Whilst many countries around the world have adopted legislation to tackle the trade in illegal timber, China - the world's second largest economy - has been a notable absence.
China is currently among the world's largest importers, manufacturers and exporters of wood products. China's timber imports in particular have grown significantly, and make up around 50% of the country's total consumption.
So it is no exaggeration to say that recent developments in China's Forest Law could have global significance for the world's timber trade and climate critical forests.
As shown in the recent Global Witness briefing Lessons from China's Global Forest Footprint: How China can rise to a global governance challenge, illegal logging and deforestation are rife in the countries in which China sources its tropical timber, including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Equatorial Guinea, which in total account for 80% of China's tropical timber imports, as well as in other key timber suppliers such as Russia.
Global Witness investigations over the last twenty years in countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands have shown how the trade in illegal timber has a devastating impact on the climate, biodiversity and local communities.
Organisations like ours have been closely following the revision of China's Forest Law, adopted by China's National People's Congress Standing Committee on 28 December 2019. Article 65 of the law makes clear for the first time that no-one should purchase, process or transport illegally sourced timber. It will take effect on 1 July 2020. In addition, the revised law empowers relevant forestry authorities to supervise and inspect timber of illegal sources (Article 67), and stipulates specific punishment measures (Article 78).
What is now crucial is how the law will be implemented, and where it will apply
These revisions could provide a vital legal framework for China to combat illegally sourced timber.
What is now crucial is how the law will be implemented, and where it will apply. The law principally addresses the management and use of China's domestic forests. So it will be important to clarify that the law covers timber sourced from overseas.
The ability of the revised Forest Law to combat the international illegal timber trade will be crucial to General Secretary Xi Jinping' 'six principles' for promoting ecological civilization. As he stated at the National Ecological Environmental Protection Conference in 2018, "we must get deeply involved in global environment governance to come up with a worldwide solution for environmental protection and sustainable development, while guiding international cooperation to tackle climate change."
As is widely recognized, forests play a vital role in the regulation of the global climate and are home to 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. Tackling China's role in the trade in illegally harvested timber could make a significant contribution to the protection and sustainable development of the world's forests, the conservation of global biodiversity and meeting the challenge of climate change.
Ahead of China's hosting of the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (CBD COP) in Kunming in October this year, progress on the Forest Law could therefore represent an encouraging foundation.