We hear a lot about "organized crime" related to drug trafficking, but it turns out it’s equally prevalent in illegal logging.
15-30% of the logging industry is now illegal and nets between $30 billion to $100 billion a year. It’s responsible for 50-90% of all the forests cut down in Amazon, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, according to a report produced by the United Nations Environment Program, "Green Carbon, Black Trade," in assocation with international police organization INTERPOL.
With over 80% of the world’s forests already destroyed, this is a huge problem. 17% of the carbon that goes into the atmosphere is released from deforestation, 50% more than ships, aviation and land transport combined. It threatens efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty.
"Illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized," say the authors. They often falsify permits, hack government trade databases and bribe officials to let them cut and transport their timber.
With the increase in organized crime, INTERPOL sees more murder, violence and atrocities against indigenous forest dwellers.
In Mexico, "In April, as the gangs began to fell the massive tropical pines that surround the town’s water sources and springs, citizens confronted the outsiders, seizing 10 logging trucks piled high with timber. A gunman shot one of the townspeople in the head," reports the Washington Post.
And because they move from country to country, without an internationally coordinated enforcement effort, their risk of being caught is low.
This effort needs to begin immediately, says UNEP, because glowing demand for wood is growing massively. China is expected double wood consumption by 2020, for example.
A pilot project called LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance to Forests) is attempting to begin international coordination. UNEP and INTERPOL are leading the project with funds from Norway’s government agency NORAD.
The report recommends these further actions:
Examples of illegal loggiing:
In 2008, in Brazil, criminals got logging and transport permits allowing them to steal 1.7 million cubic metres of forest. A Brazilian federal prosecutor accused 107 companies, 30 ring leaders and some 200 individuals of involvement, and sued these companies for almost US$1.1 billion.
Also in Brazil, in 2009, a federal prosecutor investigated a scam allegedly involving some 3,000 companies which exported illegal timber as "eco-certified" to the US, EU and Asia.
Illegal logs cut in Indonesia rose from 3.7 million cubic metres in 2000 to over 22 million in 2008. They supposedly came from forest plantations, but the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says that less than half of those plantations even existed.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, over 200 rangers have been killed over the last decade defending the park boundaries against militias operating a charcoal trade estimated at over $28 million annually.
Here’s the report: