Covering nearly a third of the planet’s land surface, the world depends on forests for survival. Forests are essential for human life, livelihoods and well-being. They provide habitats for animals, prevent soil erosion, offer watershed protection and act as carbon sinks to mitigate climate change, and millions around the world depend on forest products for their livelihoods. Yet despite their vital role in our daily lives, forests are under significant threat from criminal activities, climate change, biodiversity loss, encroachment and even the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global deforestation, illegal logging and timber trafficking are progressing at an alarming rate.
The illegal timber trade is a complex issue, often involving multiple actors in multiple countries. Illegal activities can occur at all stages in the timber supply chain and range in complexity from local illegal harvesting through to international and highly organized criminal syndicates with established commercial supply chains.
Forest crime has all the hallmarks of organized and sophisticated crime, sharing many characteristics with other transnational criminal activities, frequently involving fraud, money-laundering, corruption, and counterfeiting. Large economic incentives, remoteness, lack of traceability, demographic pressure, and the lack of available tools, methods, or even standardized definitions to assess forest loss, among others, make forests fertile ground for corruption. Corrupt acts which occur at early stages of the forest management process, for instance at the land-rights allocation or land classification stages, can render future activities resulting in the destruction or degradation of forest appear completely legal.
The negative impacts of forest crime are diverse, causing untold environmental, social and economic damage.
The Environment Team applies its crime scene to court approach to address illegal logging and trafficking in timber through the implementation of the Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment. Through the Global Programme, the Environment Team works with Member States to strengthen investigations and prosecutions related to forest crime including through the development of national Rapid Reference Guides for Investigators and Prosecutors of Wildlife and Forest Crime. Frontline officers are supported with training and mentorship as well as guidance materials and mobile applications to assist with the identification of timber. Anti-corruption measures are an essential part of the work needed to combat illegal logging and timber trafficking; the Environment Team collaborates with the UNODC Corruption and Economic Crime Branch to support forest authorities to identify and mitigate corruption risks. Training and mentorship are provided to support financial investigations linked to forest crime. International and inter-agency cooperation is fostered, for example through the establishment of national inter-agency platforms. The Environment Team also supports Member States to review and revise legislation ensuring that forest crime is treated as a serious crime in accordance with the UNTOC.