A new World Bank analysis has slammed illegal logging, citing it as a major cause of flooding in some regions and generates massive profits for organised crime. In some countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Gabon, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, illegal logging accounts for between70 percent and 90 percent of all logging, thus depriving governments and local communities of desperately needed revenue and fuelling massive corruption.
The report entitled, "Justice for Forests" says that much of the money generated goes to corrupt officials and that the best approach to stopping the logging is to take the criminals to court. This has had a major impact in some nations, it says.
Jean Pesme, of the World Bank Financial Market Integrity team says "We need to fight organised crime in illegal logging the way we go after gangsters selling drugs or racketeering". Unfortunately, most of the logging is undetected, unreported or is ignored.
It is also important to target the leaders of the criminal enterprises, rather than merely punishing those who are involved because of exploitation and poverty. At the other end of the chain, demand for the illegal wood must be tackled; the USA has led the way with the Lacey Act, which means that all US operators must show that their wood comes from a legal source, reducing the demand for illegal wood by reducing its attraction to buyers.
Illegal logging is massively detrimental in several ways: it reduces biodiversity and damages habitats, it reduces the ability of the world to absorb carbon dioxide, making climate change worse, and it can lead to localised natural disaster which impact the local communities. This last fact is largely overlooked; forests can support local people in a huge number of ways, providing food, shelter and cultural heritage to them. The removal of the forest can create human rights violations and violence, create natural disasters like landslides, and cause soil erosion.
The report estimates that total receipts from illegal logging worldwide run between 10 and 15 billion dollars a year.
"While it is a step in the right direction for the World Bank to look at what actions are needed to curb illegal logging, what is really needed is for the Bank to look at its own role in financing industrial-scale operations that benefit from legal and illegal clearance of rainforests - said Lindsey Allen, of Rainforest Action Network - When we follow the money and look to stakeholders who have reported on these issues, as the report recommends, we find that the World Bank and IFC are bankrolling the infrastructure and expansion of destructive sectors such as pulp and palm oil.
"People are risking their lives in enforcement against criminal gangs operating illegally within the forest, but it's the powerful, untouchable actors behind the scenes who need to be brought to justice," said Faith Doherty, of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has been tracing and exposing the illegal logging and timber trade in Asia for the past 12 years.