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).
Living forests are vital to mitigating climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Logging and clearing forest land, however, seriously contribute to climate change by releasing that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Deforestation accounts for an estimated 17% of global carbon emissions, a percentage around 1.5 times 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 emission – 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% of the world’s forests are certified as sustainably managed.
More than 90% of these certified forests are in North America and Europe, while the majority of the deforestation and illegal logging continues to take place in the tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia.
It is estimated that illegal logging accounts for 50-90% of the volume of forestry activities in key producer tropical countries and 15-30% 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 USD 30 billion annually.
The criminal gangs behind these crimes damage local communities through loss of income, livelihood and life-threatening environmental damage. They are also responsible for the corruption of officials, fraud, money laundering, extortion, threats of violence and even murder.
INTERPOL recognizes that if forest protection mechanisms are to be implemented effectively, it is first necessary to reduce illegal logging and corruption in the forest sector through improved law enforcement efforts.
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 and customs. Only through coordinated action can we tackle illegal logging and the associated efforts to conceal it.
Project Leaf will take a coordinated approach to training and collaboration with national law enforcements agencies to ensure officers have the necessary skills and capacities.
Furthermore, international intelligence gathering, sharing and analysis will guide and inform targeted international and regional operations against forestry related crimes.
Preliminary work under Project Leaf began in November 2011, with the Project commencing in 2012.
The Project’s specific objectives include:
- Providing an overview and review of 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;
- Providing insights into the way organized criminals organize their activities;
- Developing best practices for combating REDD-related and forest-related corruption.
GREEN CARBON, BLACK TRADE: Illegal Logging, Tax Fraud And Laundering In The World’s Tropical Forests
INTERPOL and UNEP Rapid Response Assessment have produced a report on illegal logging. The report highlights the primary challenges and opportunities in combating corruption, fraud, smuggling and laundering of illegally logged forest products. It also outlines the impacts of illegal logging on the lives and livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world.
1st International Chiefs of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Summit, Lyon, France, 27-29 March 2012
National leaders of agencies and departments with law enforcement responsibility for environmental, biodiversity and natural resource issues were invited to attend the Summit.
Organized by INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the summit provided an opportunity to begin early development of coordinated national and international responses to forestry related crime, including the formation of national task forces.
Project CHAINSAW was an INTERPOL criminal intelligence analysis report supported by the World Bank.
Rather than considering the issue of illegal logging solely from an environmental perspective, the report assessed the problem from an international criminal justice viewpoint.
The Project viewed timber as a commodity (such as illegal drugs or weapons) and the process of illegal timber harvesting and international trafficking as a succession of criminal activities undertaken at an international level by networks of organized criminals.
Visit our Resources page to see other relevant publications (some of which are available to authorized users only).
Preparing for European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) Implementation: Workshop Two
Brussels, 20-21 February 2013
This two-day workshop was a continuation of the Preparing for European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) Implementation workshop held on 17-18 January 2013, also in Brussels. Law enforcement representatives from those national agencies responsible for enforcing EU Timber Regulations discussed some of the more practical elements of forestry law enforcement.
Preparing for European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) Implementation: Workshop One
Brussels, 17-18 January 2013
The first of two workshops, this event was hosted by the European Commission and facilitated by INTERPOL, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (also known as Chatham House) and ClientEarth. Intended for the law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing the EU Timber Regulations that will take effect on 3 March 2013, the workshop provided law enforcement strategies and tactics for EU member countries to begin enforcing these laws.
Operation Lead, 17 September - 17 November 2012
INTERPOL’s first international operation targeting large-scale illegal logging and forest crimes was undertaken in 12 countries in Central and South America, under Project Leaf. This operation brought together law enforcement agencies to combat forestry crime in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Officials carried out inspections and investigations on transport vehicles, retail premises and individuals, as well as surveillance and monitoring at ports and various transport centres. Operation Lead resulted in the seizure of USD 8 million dollars’ worth of timber and some 150 vehicles across Latin America. Along with the seizures, participating countries reported a total of 194 arrests, with 118 individuals currently under investigation, and several cases of deportation. Read the media release
Lead Training in Manaus, Brazil, 19 - 25 August 2012
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 Amazonas, the week-long course in August was part of INTERPOL’s Leaf Project (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) which provides support and capacity building for forestry compliance and security in order to combat illegal logging and deforestation.
Specialist officers from eight countries – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay and San Salvador – underwent training in both basic skills such as jungle navigation and orientation, and high-tech modules on using satellite software, which assists in not only identifying unlawful land clearing, but can also provide the evidence required for criminal and/or administrative prosecution.
Supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD) through funding for INTERPOL’s Project Leaf, an initiative in collaboration with UNEP’s GRID-Arendal, the expertise gained by participants will now be shared with other national specialist officers to assist future law enforcement and intelligence-led illegal logging and forestry crime operations.
Message from President Robert B. Zoellick of the World Bank Group
- UK DEFRA
- UK National Wildlife Crime Unit
Tiger-range countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Kenya and South Africa will also act as champion (mentoring) countries.