My name is Jim Bettle and I am the NCFed National Charcoal Representative, I set up The Dorset Charcoal Company back in 1997 and am proud to a producer of truly sustainable UK charcoal.
One of my first jobs in this NCFed role was to lobby on behalf of UK charcoal producers in the consultation process for the new Environment Bill. This led to a meeting with the Rt Hon Rebecca Pow MP Minister for the Environment last year. The minister agreed that the fact that there is absolutely no regulation on imported charcoal to the UK would seem unacceptable.
Below is an article I recently helped to produce with freelance journalist Jack Dutton in order to highlight the crazy situation and the damage unsustainable imported charcoal is doing to the planet.
Please feel free to use all or any part of the article/report in your efforts to again highlight that BRITISH CHARCOAL IS BEST!
Charcoal is one of Europe’s top five drivers of global deforestation.
Still, it is not considered by the British government to be “a forestry risk commodity” in the new Environment Act — and therefore is unregulated, and imported often using illegal logging methods contributing to the destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse tropical forests.
As thousands of Britons had barbecues over the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend, new research shows that a quarter of all UK charcoal imports come from countries of high deforestation risk. Experts are accusing the government of not moving quickly enough to regulate the industry.
In 2020, the UK imported more than 98,800 tonnes of charcoal and 24,131 tonnes of it was from high deforestation risk countries, including Indonesia, Nigeria and Paraguay, according to new data from the non-profit Earthworm Foundation. Industry insiders say this is due to a lack of regulation and the opacity of the product’s supply chain. The foundation estimates that charcoal is in Europe's top five products that contribute towards global deforestation, along with beef, palm oil and soy. Earthworm estimates that between 2011 and 2020, the British charcoal imports from high deforestation countries spiked — with 900 percent and 770 percent increases from Paraguay and Indonesia over that period respectively.
Overall, the foundation estimates that the UK's imported charcoal in 2020 used around 181,000 tonnes of wood from high deforestation risk countries. For example, the dry tropical forests of Chaco in Paraguay, home to hundreds of species and one of the worlds last isolated forest tribes, are being destroyed at a quicker rate than most other tropical forests on the planet, to provide space for agriculture and feed European charcoal demand.
Some 50 million tonnes of charcoal is produced annually, from about 400 million tonnes of wood. As well as being used for barbeques, charcoal — which is made by burning wood in a low oxygen environment — is used commercially by businesses, such as restaurants and music festivals.
Between 2011 and 2020, 94 percent of all charcoal used in the UK was imported, the NGO’s data shows. In 2020, 21 percent of British charcoal imports were from South Africa, 20 percent from Spain, 18 percent from Namibia, followed by 14 percent from Paraguay. Nigeria accounts for 6 percent, while Indonesia accounts for 4 percent.
Charcoal is often certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s largest certification scheme for wood products. It is meant to show that the wood has been sourced from sustainably-managed forests and that the process has not involved forced labour. However, the FSC has admitted that mistakes have been made in the past and that charcoal from tropical sources has been coming into the British market. It has since tried to improve due diligence standards when suppliers apply for FSC regulation, a spokesperson said, noting that the body also suspended Ukrainian FSC certificate holders in 2019 who had falsely claimed their charcoal was sustainable.
In 2012, Britain implemented a regulation to ensure imported UK wood products were made from legally-logged timber. Charcoal was however exempted from the law, meaning there is no legal requirement for UK businesses and retailers to source it sustainably or even for it to be FSC-certified. Absurdly, unlike timber, the government does not consider charcoal “a forestry risk commodity” — a globally traded good and raw material that originates from at risk forest ecosystems such as tropical forest, mangroves and sub saharan woodland, whose extraction or production contributes significantly to global tropical deforestation and degradation of the land.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed plans to review the 2012 UK Timber regulation after hosting COP26, the UN climate conference in Glasgow last November. The review has not happened yet, but the ministry has indicated that it is considering adding other products, such as charcoal, to the regulation. A Defra spokesperson said:
“The Government is working hard to tackle illegal deforestation and protect wildlife both at home and abroad. With the Environment Act now law, the UK is committed to going further than ever before to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect forests, through a package of measures that will ensure greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains.”
But Björn Roberts, Earthworm Foundation’s senior forestry adviser, said:
“Charcoal’s omission from the regulation sends the wrong message. Year after year we see new reports of illegal harvest and deforestation in charcoal supply chains feeding UK and EU markets. It’s now time for charcoal to be regulated in the same way as other forest products, and also to support charcoal producers in ‘problem areas’ who want to do the right thing.”
Jim Bettle, the UK charcoal representative at the National Coppice Federation, said that in the meantime, consumers can ensure their charcoal comes from sustainable sources by buying local.
“With the focus so much on forest risk commodities, I find it absurd that charcoal is not considered to be one. I was heartened to get to speak to a minister last year who agreed that this was a problem, but with all these things, there is no timetable for change. With no regulation on imported charcoal, it puts UK producers at a huge disadvantage due to the costs that we incur. Consumers, look out for British charcoal, it will say on the bag where it's from. If it doesn't say on the bag where it's from, you can pretty much guarantee it's not sustainable.”
Above is an article written by the freelance journalist Jack Dutton. We hoped a national newspaper might have been interested in publishing, but unfortunately not despite our best efforts.
Please feel free to use the article as you see fit... maybe your local paper might be interested?