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. 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.
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.