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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 17:44 GMT
G8 to tackle illegal timber trade
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent, in Derby

Illegal logs are piled in West Papua, Indonesia (AP)
The G8 want to tackle the illegal timber trade
Environment and development ministers from the G8 group of leading countries have committed themselves to tackling the problem of illegal logging.

They have also agreed that action is needed to protect Africa from the consequences of climate change.

Their statement of intent came at the end of a meeting in Derby, UK, and will be considered at the G8 summit in July.

Britain's Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said there had been "an interesting dialogue".

"What was most noticeable was the degree to which everyone was singing from the same hymn-sheet," she told reporters at the conclusion of the two-day meeting.

However, other delegates spoke of dissent behind the scenes, with the United States delegation determined to block any mention of linkages between climate change and issues such as trade and agricultural subsidies.

Today, I am a bit disappointed because it was not possible to have a strong and engaged statement
Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Affairs
"Unfortunately there has been an apparently concerted effort by the United States to try to isolate climate change," Dr Benito Mueller, of the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, told the BBC News website.

"So really, it is trying to 'ghetto-ise' climate change, which is very, very detrimental to the field."

Dr Mueller's comments were backed up by off-the-record conversations with officials from two other delegations.

African imperative

The Commission for Africa report, released during the week preceding the conference, formed the basis for many of the discussions.

It labelled subsidies as "environmentally destructive" and "ethically indefensible", and said that trade tariffs should be dismantled within five years.

But the G8 ministers' statement steers clear of such issues; it acknowledges that Africa is especially vulnerable to climate change, that it represents a threat to development, that measures to reduce vulnerability are needed and that African nations need assistance in understanding climate risks.

Margaret Beckett and officials at the Derby meeting (PA)
Mrs Beckett chaired much of the two-day meeting
On forestry, the statement commits G8 nations to "encourage, adopt or extend public timber procurement policies that favour legal timber", and to assist producer countries to tackle illegal logging through combating corruption and strengthening law enforcement.

Britain's International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, said the UK was "delighted with the support shown by our G8 partners for practical action".

Other delegates would have liked the agreement to go further.

"Today, I am a bit disappointed because it was not possible to have a strong and engaged statement," the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Louis Michel, told BBC News.

"It would have been a very good opportunity to show that we were tackling such an important problem."

Closed fairways

Among other things, Mr Michel had argued for a system of verifying the origin of timber imported to G8 member countries - something which he said was technically feasible.

Both statements now go forward to the G8 summit, to be held in July at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Away from the agenda itself, the conference has been remarkable for two factors: security and seclusion.

Police outside Derby railway station (PA)
The Derby event was a major security operation
To get to the conference venue - a golfing resort north-east of Derby in the English midlands - reporters and indeed delegates had to pass a security cordon of Fort Knox proportions.

Around 2,000 police officers, many drafted in from other forces, were deployed near the venue and in the surrounding area.

In fact, police far exceeded the combined numbers of delegates, reporters and staff at the conference venue; one local food shop owner told the BBC News website that business had rarely been so good.

Steel barricades cut across the lush fairways, and an aluminium track capable of carrying heavy security vehicles ringed the complex.

Though a handful of arrests were made at an anti-globalisation demonstration in Derby itself, not a single protestor was seen near the conference.

To add to the surreal atmosphere, staff from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spent the night at the venue in two tour buses, more usually the chosen accommodation of rock stars; apparently the nocturnal noises consisted of the tapping of fingers on laptops, rather than the giggling of groupies.

If the security operation kept protestors away from delegates, some mysterious force appeared to be at work keeping delegates away from reporters.

While Margaret Beckett and Hilary Benn crossed the "force field" dividing the two communities, no other delegations made their ministers available to the media, despite repeated requests.

Journalists were asked to write their requests for interviews on a board in the media room; by the end of the conference, the last plaintive entry read "everybody wants anybody, whatsoever".

Archbishop Tutu calls for G8 help
17 Mar 05 |  Scotland
Protestors arrested at G8 summit
17 Mar 05 |  Derbyshire
US blocks forest protection plan
15 Mar 05 |  Newsnight
Economy 'needs healthy climate'
15 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature

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