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Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) is a consortium forests and climate initiative on combating illegal logging and organized forest crime. It is led by the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) centre in Norway (UNEP GRID Arendal), with financial support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

The issues

Living forests are vital to mitigating climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 17 per cent of global carbon emissions, greater than from all the world’s air, road, rail and shipping traffic combined.

National and international frameworks exist to protect forests, reduce illegal logging, support sustainable practices and reduce emissions – for example, the international climate finance mechanism known as REDD or REDD+, which is supported by UN and World Bank initiatives.

However, while recent years have seen increased concern for sustainable forestry, around only 8 per cent of the world’s forests are certified as sustainably managed.

It is estimated that illegal logging accounts for 50-90 per cent of the volume of forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, such as those of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and 15-30 per cent of all wood traded globally. It is also estimated that illegal logging still occurs in many formally protected forests, especially in tropical countries.

Clearly, if left uncontrolled, illegal logging will undo the global community’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. In addition to the environmental damage, the trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative and estimated at least at USD 30 billion annually.

The response

An international, coordinated response is essential in order to combat the organized transnational nature of the criminal groups involved. Otherwise, halting illegal logging in one country will merely result in an increase in another as the demand for illegally logged wood products remains.

Effective compliance and enforcement requires international and national cooperation among the many different law enforcement agencies involved, including police, forest authorities and customs.
Preliminary work under Project Leaf began in November 2011, with the project launched in 2012.

The project’s specific objectives include:

  • Providing an overview and review of the extent, primary geographic locations, routes, causes and structure of networks involved in illegal logging, corruption, fraud, laundering and smuggling of wood products;
  • Supporting countries in improved enforcement efforts;
  • Providing training and operational support;
  • Developing best practices for combating REDD-related and forest-related corruption.
Project Leaf - news
21 March 2014

Clear-cut crime scenes: Why the International Day of Forests matters

The International Day of Forests is an important opportunity to remind ourselves of the vital role of forests to the world’s environment, people’s health and the economic well-being of many forest-rich – but cash-poor – countries. It is also an important time to acknowledge the level of forest destruction and the need for the rule of law at this ‘final fr...
26 July 2013

INTERPOL member countries continue fight against illegal logging in Latin America

LYON, France – Nearly USD 40 million worth of timber has been seized in follow up investigations as part of INTERPOL’s Operation Lead targeting illegal logging, forest crimes and the criminal networks behind them.Building upon the initial outcomes of the operation, Costa Rica and Venezuela in particular have increased their efforts in the fight against il...
03 May 2013

Protecting forests focus of INTERPOL training course

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Enhanced information and intelligence collection, evaluation and sharing were identified as key areas for law enforcement to more effectively combat illegal logging, the illicit trade in timber and other forestry crime across the Asia-Pacific region during an INTERPOL training course.The week-long ( 29 April – 3 May) course was organi...
21 March 2013

Combating illegal logging key to saving our forests and preventing climate change

Protecting the world’s last remaining natural forests is crucial to global efforts to tackle climate change. There is widespread and growing scientific consensus that it will only be possible to avoid the tipping point when climate change becomes irreversible if we achieve both a reduction in overall industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, and establish...
19 February 2013

Latin American countries in first INTERPOL operation against illegal logging

LYON, France – INTERPOL’s first international operation targeting large-scale illegal logging and forest crimes has resulted in almost 200 arrests as well as in the seizure of millions of dollars’ worth of timber and some 150 vehicles across Latin America.Operation Lead (17 September- 17 November 2012), undertaken in 12 countries in Central and South Amer...
27 September 2012

Illegal logging nets organized crime up to 100 billion dollars a year, INTERPOL–UNEP report reveals

ROME, Italy – The illegal timber trade by organized crime groups is estimated to be worth between USD 30 and 100 billion annually according to a new joint report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL.The Rapid Response Report, entitled ‘Green Carbon: Black Trade’, states that illegal logging now accounts for between 15 a...
13 September 2012

Environmental officers go back to their roots in joint INTERPOL and Brazilian Federal Police initiative

MANAUS, Brazil – Jungle survival and the use of geoprocessing tools were just two elements in a Law Enforcement Against Deforestation (LEAD) training initiative for environmental enforcement officers provided by INTERPOL in collaboration with the Brazilian Federal Police.Held at the Brazilian Environmental Police Training Centre in Manaus, in the state of...
05 June 2012

INTERPOL launches Project LEAF to combat illegal logging worldwide

LYON, France – To mark World Environment Day, 5 June, INTERPOL announces the launch of Project LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests), an initiative dedicated to combating all aspects of forestry crime, including illegal logging and timber trafficking.Project LEAF, a partnership between INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),...