International Forest Crime
Trees and their subsequent by-products are one of the world’s foremost natural resources, second perhaps only to water. They’re possibly the most widespread form of biomass on the planet, and they are under threat. No, it’s not another deforestation article – this week we’re discussing the ‘Project Leaf’ (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) initiative – a new organisation endorsed and supported by both Interpol and the UN, and while it is still in its infancy, the initiative aims to create a more effective policing approach to international forest crime.
This specifically concerns criminals affiliated with illegal logging and lumber trafficking. The impetus of the initiative stems not only from the significant rise in these crimes in recent decades, but also the rising dependence of the world’s population upon the lumber industry. It was estimated in a study undertaken by Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) that over ¼ of the world’s population relies on trees and their derivatives for their food, fuels, medicines and livelihoods and as such, it is a matter of global imperative that this threat to international economies be nipped in the bud.
One of the major developments in the criminal activity has been the globalisation of the enterprise – it is no longer an activity restricted by nationality or borders. As David Higgins, Environmental Crime Programme Manager for Interpol, has stated:
“The international legislation to protect forests and curtail illegal logging demonstrates this, Project Leaf will ensure these global laws are supported by global enforcement and that the criminals responsible are brought to justice – no matter what their location, movements or resources.”
Of course the major threat posed by unchecked logging and trafficking is the increased and, more importantly, unrecorded deforestation and as our previous articles have asserted, we’ll need every tree we can get to ensure the eventual halt and reversal of climate change. Trees en masse act as great natural sponges to the carbon footprints our technology leaves behind, however, this alludes to a more nefarious side-effect of forest clearing and logging. Though the trees will absorb carbon dioxide as a part of the process of photosynthesis, the harmful elements of the gas will not be converted for some time and so by felling relatively young sections of forest these huge deposits of carbon are re-released, now in a more concentrated form, into the atmosphere.
In fact this problem is so widespread the it is estimated that over 15% of the world’s carbon emissions are a result of recycled carbon being dispersed during deforestation – a figure around 1.5 times that of all our transport, shipping and traffic combined!
Of course, while this has encouraged increased awareness and significance to be placed upon our forests, it is thought that only around 8% of the world’s forests are certified as sustainably managed and more than 90% of these are centralised to regions around North America and Europe while less developed nations (with much greater economic reliance on this material) are left with the crumbs. It is also developing nations such as those situated in the tropics that report that highest level of illegal deforestation, accounting for a whopping 50-90% of all logging activity in that region!
By Josh Ellison