Back in 2010 we reported on the case of Moroccan activist Mohammed Attaoui who was facing imprisonment for his stance against illegal logging. Living in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, Attaoui insisted that ‘mafia-style’ corruption was behind illegal logging which threatened the protected cedar of Morocco. Weeks after publishing his expose Attaoui was arrested on trumped-up charges and given a two year sentence. Now, a new report by the UN states that around 90% of all illegal logging in tropical countries in the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia may be supporting organised crime.
The UN report challenges the international figures which state that illegal logging is on the decline and insists that the illegal loggers have just got better at hiding their tracks. Common techniques used to hide stock include forging permits, hacking trade databases, hiding illegal timber amongst legal stock and concealing the true origin of the wood. With this in mind, the report estimates that illegal logging makes up 30% of the global timber trade and 50% – 90% of tropical deforestation can attributed to organised crime. This means that the illegal timber trade alone is estimated to net between $30 to $100 billion a year.
“What we’re shocked about is the sheer scale of timber that goes unaccounted for,” report author Christian Nelleman told New Scientist. And as the illegal trade is so lucrative, cartels are simply becoming more and more organised: “As long as the profits in illegal logging remain high and the risks of getting caught are very low, there is little incentive to abandon illegal practices,” adds the report.
UNEP released the report ‘Green Carbon: Black Trade’ in association with international police organization Interpol. In June, Interpol established a pilot programme called Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests (LEAF) which will attempt to coordinate the efforts of police and intelligence agencies to fight illegal timber internationally. The full report focuses on case studies in Indonesia, the Congo and Brazil where corrupted political systems have allowed illegal loggers to escape detention.
: Image of Logging activity at canal river in Indonesia via Shutterstock.com
For on the impacts of illegal logging and deforestation see: