The Mafia is Behind 90% of Illegal Logging in the Tropics

Illegal logging is driving the lion's share of deforestation in the world's rain forests, and organized crime is to blame for almost all of it. That's the grim conclusion of a new U.N. report, Green Carbon, Black Market (pdf): organized criminal syndicates are behind up to 90% of tropical deforestation.

From the report:

... illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national or local police efforts. By some estimates, 15 per cent to 30 per cent of the volume of wood traded globally has been obtained illegally. Unless addressed, the criminal actions of the few may endanger not only the development prospects for the many but also some of the creative and catalytic initiatives being introduced to recompense countries and communities for the ecosystem services generated by forests
The U.N. is referring there to a number of arrangements reached between wealthy nations and tropical developing ones to preserve their rainforests. Norway, for instance, agreed to give $250 million to Guyana to protect its forests. The concern is that coordinated illegal logging efforts may be trumping conservation efforts in countries that lack the resources or political stability necessary to crack down on the practice.

Illegal logging operations are especially rampant in Indonesia, Brazil, and unstable forest-rich African nations like the Congo. The U.N. has a chart that simplifies how such operations are enabled:

logging causesUNEP/via

Not so surprising: poorer, more corrupt governments will foster environments more likely to contain rampant illegal logging. Actually surprising: the sheer scale of these illicit operations.

Here's the New Scientist:

"What we're shocked about is the sheer scale of timber that goes unaccounted for," [study author Christian] Nelleman says. In 2008, for instance, Indonesia officially exported 18.6 million more cubic metres of wood than in 2000. This additional wood ostensibly came from legal plantations, but most of these turned out to be bogus. Loggers simply cut down forests instead.
The sad fact that criminal organizations are driving the spike in deforestation means that traditional regulatory structures are mostly powerless to address it; nations are going to have to rethink their conservation strategies from the ground up. And the international community is going to have find and activate new mechanisms capable of dealing with a relatively new beast — the timber mafia.

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