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Forest illegal logging

Forest illegal logging
Forest crime: a disappearing act with tragic consequences


Illegal logging occurs in all types of forests, from Brazil to Canada, Cameroon to Kenya, and from Indonesia to Russia, destroying nature, damaging communities and distorting trade.

This practice mainly exists because of increasing demand for timber, paper and derivative products (including packaging), a trend which is likely to continue in the future.  Illegal logging can also happen when forests are cleared for plantations such as oil palm.

But not all wood removal is due to trade. In fact, 40% of wood taken from forests globally is used for basic energy needs such as cooking and heating. In tropical regions wood removal (often illegal) for fuel can be as high as 80%.a

We all know that illegal logging is a major problem in the Congo Basin and the Amazon. What is less recognized is that the problem also occurs in countries such as Canada and even in Europe. For example, up to 45% of the total harvest in Bulgaria stems from illegal harvesting.1


What is illegal logging?

Illegal logging is the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws. This definition also applies to harvesting wood from protected areas, exporting threatened plant/tree species, and falsifying official documents.

Less obvious acts of illegal logging include breaking license agreements, tax evasion, corrupting government officials and interfering with access and rights to forest areas.2

Illegal logging & you

Contributing to illegal logging is frighteningly easy - as easy as stepping into a wood product retail store and purchasing a chair or a table whose origins are unknown. And which is potentially made from timber that was illegally cut and/or exported.

By asking for 'good wood' - wood that has been obtained through legal practices - consumers can exert pressure on the timber industry to adopt more environmentally and socially friendly practices.

> Want to help? start here
> Did you know that forest loss contributes to higher carbon emissions? You can help by neutralising YOUR carbon emissions, such as through the Climate Friendly scheme.

Some figures on illegal logging

  • 83% of timber production in Indonesia is considered to stem from illegal logging 3
  • Government purchase of timber products is estimated to account for 18% of all timber imports into G8 countries 4
  • An estimated €10–15 billion are lost through illegal logging globally each year5
  • The European Union causes almost €3 billion of this loss due to its trade with countries in the Amazon Basin, the Baltic States, the Congo Basin, east Africa, Indonesia and Russia 6

Why is illegal logging still happening?

A considerable number of agreements, fora and conventions have attempted to deal with the problem – and yet illegal logging still persists. There are several reasons for this:
  • High demand for timber products
    Illegal logging is a profitable activity because there is such high demand for timber products, from flooring to tissue. This demand originates from the European Union and countries such as Japan and the US, and in emerging economies such as China (see graph below). 7
  • Weak rule of law
    Illegal logging is of particular concern in countries where laws are weakly applied, or even not at all. Where officials have few incentives to stop illegal logging, or can even benefit from it themselves, they can act with little concern of being arrested. 8
  • Poorly implemented trade rules
    Trade rules are still not strong enough to stop illegal timber and timber products to move across borders. Identifying and stopping illegal timber is difficult, unless a critical mass of countries implement similar requirements.

Growth in global wood exports from China (1993-2003)9

Evidence suggests that Chinese demand for timber is linked to an increase in unsustainable harvesting and illegal logging. However, China is only one link in a global commodity chain. Consumers and retailers in the US, EU and Japan who buy Chinese furniture and plywood made from illegally harvested hardwoods from Papua New Guinea—to give just one example—are an integral part of the story.


a Contreras-Hermosilla A., Doornbosch R., Lodge M. 2007. The Economics of Illegal Logging and Associated Trade. OECD - SG/SD/RT(2007)1/REV. 46 pp.
1 WWF Press Release. 2005. EU must tackle illegal logging in own borders, says WWF.
2 WWF Asia Forests and Trade website. Accessed November 2006.
3 Tacconi L., Obidzinski K., Agung F. 2004. Learning Lessons to Promote Certification and Control Illegal Logging in Indonesia, Report for the WWF/TNC Alliance to Promote Forest Certification and Combat Illegal Logging in Indonesia, Centre for International Forestry Research.
4 Toyne P, O’Brien C,  Nelson R. 2002. The Timber Footprint of the G8 and China. Making the case for green procurement by government. WWF report.
5 WWF. 2006. Failing the Forests: Europe’s illegal timber trade. Report. 102 pp.
6 bis
7 bis
8 WWF Press Release. 2005. EU must tackle illegal logging in own borders, says WWF.
9 Chunquan Z., Taylor R., Guoqiang F. 2004. CHINA’S WOOD MARKET, TRADE AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Science Press USA Inc

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