Project LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) is an INTERPOL/ United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) consortium initiative against illegal logging and related crimes.

It is led by INTERPOL 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+, which is supported by UN and World Bank initiatives.

Despite this increased concern for sustainable forestry, around only eight 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 all 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. Illegal logging continues to occur in many formally protected forests, especially in tropical countries.

The trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative and estimated to be worth between USD 30 and USD 100 billion annually.

Illegal logging operations rely on corruption and could not occur without some form of consent from government officials responsible for protecting forests. Officials accept bribes that allow criminals to obtain logging permits, avoid detection and export illegal timber. This results in the loss of crucial resources for developing countries, while damaging their economies, public trust, and institutional structures.

The response

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

Effective compliance and enforcement requires cooperation among the many different law enforcement agencies involved, including police, forest authorities, anti-corruption units, financial intelligence units (FIUs) and customs.

By involving the FIUs and investigating financial crimes – such as money laundering – in the forestry sector, the law enforcement community can identify and confiscate the proceeds of those crimes. Following the money trail leads to the masterminds or financiers of the illegal logging operations and, most importantly, to their assets.

Project Leaf aims to:

  • Raise awareness of the impact of illegal logging;
  • Develop law enforcement capacity;
  • Enhance information and intelligence sharing;
  • Establish National Environmental Security Task Forces (NESTs) to promote institutionalized cooperation between national agencies and international partners.

These aims will be delivered through analysis, training, operational support and the dissemination of expert recommendations and best practice.

See related reports and manuals on our Resources page.

Project Leaf - news
15 April 2016

INTERPOL training in Argentina targets corruption in the forestry sector

21 March 2016

International Day of Forests: the role of environmental security

26 November 2015

INTERPOL operations target illegal timber trade in Africa and the Americas

21 August 2015

INTERPOL’s Project Leaf looks to boost efforts against forestry crime in Asia and East Africa

03 March 2015

INTERPOL encourages global action on World Wildlife Day

12 February 2015

Uniting West African efforts to tackle illegal timber trade focus of INTERPOL workshop

21 November 2014

INTERPOL holds training courses to tackle forest crime in South America

25 July 2014

Trade in illegal timber target of INTERPOL and WCO-supported operation in Peru

26 June 2014

Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda unite efforts to combat illegal timber trade in East Africa

24 June 2014

Illegal trade in wildlife and timber products finances criminal and militia groups, threatening security and sustainable development

21 March 2014

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

26 July 2013

INTERPOL member countries continue fight against illegal logging in Latin America

03 May 2013

Protecting forests focus of INTERPOL training course

21 March 2013

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

19 February 2013

Latin American countries in first INTERPOL operation against illegal logging

27 September 2012

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

13 September 2012

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

05 June 2012

INTERPOL launches Project LEAF to combat illegal logging worldwide