What is illegal logging?
Illegal logging takes place when timber is harvested, transported, or traded in violation of applicable legislation.
We have defined applicable legislation as laws related to the following categories:
- Legal rights to harvest
- Taxes and fees
- Timber harvesting activities
- Third parties’ rights
- Trade and transport
For more information on our methodology, see here.
How big a problem is illegal logging?
By its nature of being illegal and therefore clandestine, it is difficult to come up with precise estimates of how much wood is logged illegally. What is known though, is that illegal logging remains a very big problem.
The UN Environment Programme reports that illegal logging accounts for between 15% and 30% of global timber trade, and rises to 50% to 90% of the trade from tropical countries. The EU’s figures are slightly higher. They estimate that between 20% and 40% of the global timber trade comes from illegal sources.
As a result, the UN Environment Programme estimates that the economic value of illegal logging around the world (including processing) is worth between US$30 and US$100 billion. The EU estimates that illegal logging costs the governments of developing countries €10-€15 billion a year in lost revenues.
The European Union estimates that 20% of all illegally logged timber ends up in the EU.
Why is illegal logging a problem?
Illegal logging and related activities have negative impact on:
- The environment. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s remaining land-based biodiversity.
- Climate change. Between 25% and 30% of the greenhouse gas released into the environment come from deforestation.
- People. More than one in four people around the world relies on forest resources for their livelihoods. Yet forests have effectively disappeared in 25 countries and another 29 countries have lost more than 90% of their forest cover.
- Developing countries. When timber is harvested illegally, governments lose much-needed revenue, especially those in developing countries that need it most.
- Timber companies. Illegal logging sets up an unfair competition between timber companies, with those behaving illegally able to undercut their more law-abiding competitors.
- Security. Illegal logging is often linked to organised crime groups and can be a source of financing for rebel groups or even terrorist groups.
What’s been done to combat illegal logging?
There are a number of governmental initiatives to try to reduce the extent of illegal logging around the world. There’s a summary of the key legislative efforts in the table below.
Until relatively recently, timber that had been harvested illegally would no longer be considered illegal once it had left the country of harvest. The EU Timber Regulation, the US Lacey Act and the Australian Illegal Logging Prevention Act changed that. They effectively make it illegal to place timber on those markets if it was illegal in its country of harvest. In particular, they require companies to carry out due diligence (or in the case of the Lacey Act, take ‘due care’) in order to minimise these risks.
Timeline of key legislative efforts to combat illegal logging
- 2003. EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT) sets out measures help developing countries control illegal logging, and to reduce the trade in illegal timber between these countries and the EU.
- 2006. Green Purchasing Law (Japan) introduces a government procurement policy that favours wood products derived from wood that has been legally and sustainably harvested.
- 2007. Norway bans the use of tropical timber in public procurement.
- 2008. Lacey Act (US) is amended to include timber and paper. The original Act bans trafficking in illegal wildlife; the amended Act is the world’s first law to ban the trade in illegally sourced wood products.
- 2010. EU Timber Regulation is adopted. It prohibits the placing of illegally sourced wood products on the European market and requires companies to carry out due diligence.
- 2012. Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act passes. It prohibits Australian companies from importing illegally logged timber products into Australia, and from processing illegally harvested Australian timber.
- 2013. EU Timber Regulation enters into force. It prohibits the placing of illegally sourced wood products on the European market and requires companies to carry out due diligence.
- 2013. Roundwood Act (Russia) requires roundwood from species such as oak, beech and ash to be tracked.
- 2016. Promotion of Distribution and Use of Legally Logged Wood Products Act (Japan) requires companies to get registered to certify that they will only trade in legally produced timber.