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Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) is a climate initiative consortium against illegal logging and related crimes.

It is led by INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme’s centre in Norway (UNEP GRID Arendal), with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the United States Department of State (DoS).

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.

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
25 July 2014

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

LYON, France – An operation supported by INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) targeting the criminal groups linked to the illegal timber trade in Peru has resulted in the seizure of wood and wood products worth USD 20.6 million.Operation Amazonas, held from March to May 2014, was conducted jointly by Peru Customs (SUNAT), INTERPOL and the WCO...
26 June 2014

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

Nairobi, 26 June 2014 – High-level government representatives from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania today, at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), announced their intention to work together, along with INTERPOL and UN agencies, to curb the illegal timber trade that is stripping East Africa of one of its most valuable natural resources.The East...
24 June 2014

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

NAIROBI, Kenya (24 June) -Global environmental crime, worth up to USD213 billion each year, is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL.The Environmental Crime Crisis, a rapid r...
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),...