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.

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