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 and 30 per cent of the global legal trade and significantly hampers the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative - one of the principal tools for stimulating environmental change, sustainable development, job creation and reducing emissions.
In addition to increased organized crime involvement, the report also highlights a rise in other crime types linked to illegal logging, including murder, corruption, fraud and theft, with indigenous forest dwellers particularly affected.
“Funding to better manage forests represents an enormous opportunity to not only address climate change but to reduce rates of deforestation, improve water supplies, cut soil erosion and generate decent green jobs in natural resource management,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
“Illegal logging can, however, undermine this effort, robbing countries and communities of a sustainable future, if the unlawful activities are more profitable than the lawful ones under REDD+,” he added.
“The threat posed to the environment by transnational organized crime requires a strong, effective and innovative international law enforcement response to protect these natural resources and combat the corruption and violence tied to this type of crime, which can also affect a country’s stability and security,” said Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General of INTERPOL.
The report highlights 30 key methods used by organized crime groups to procure and launder illegal timber, including falsification of logging permits, bribes to obtain permits, logging beyond legally-operated concessions and hacking official websites to obtain or change electronic permits. Another scam involves selling timber and wood originating from wild forests as plantation timber – often with government subsidies for plantations.
INTERPOL and UNEP, through the UN agency’s GRID Arendal centre in Norway, have established a pilot-project called LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance to Forests) funded by the Norwegian Government agency NORAD to develop an international system to combat organized crime in close collaboration with key partners.
To complement and expand on these efforts, key recommendations in the report, released at the World Forest conference in Rome, include:
- Developing a fully-fledged LEAF programme under INTERPOL and UNEP, in close collaboration with REDD+, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) and all relevant partners;
- Increasing national investigative and operational capacities through training on transnational environmental crime;
- Encouraging tax fraud investigations with a particular focus on plantations and mills.