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Saving the World's Forests: A Technology Revolution to Curb Illegal Logging

This piece was co-authored with Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

This piece explores how advances in technology can curb illegal logging, written in honor of the first International Day of Forests. It originally appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business Blog.

Our future is inextricably linked to forests. The social and economic benefits they provide are essential to realizing a sustainable century. A key litmus test of our commitment to this future is our response to a growing, global threat: illegal logging and the criminal timber trade.

Forests are a vital source of biodiversity and livelihoods. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people who are wholly dependent on forests. They are also natural carbon storage systems and key allies in combating climate change. They are vast, nature-based water utilities assisting in the storage and release of freshwater to lakes and river networks.

While deforestation is slowing in some places – most notably Brazil – it still remains far too high. The loss of forests is responsible for up to 17 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined.

Asia Pulp & Paper's Anti-Deforestation Pledge: Sign of a Changing Industry?

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies, announced earlier this month that it will no longer cut down natural forests in Indonesia and will demand similar commitments from its suppliers. The announcement was received with guarded optimism by Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, and other NGOs who have waged a persistent campaign to change APP’s forest policies.

Indeed, APP’s new policy—which includes sourcing all material from plantation-grown trees, ceasing clearing of carbon-rich peatland, and engaging more with local communities—is significant, both for the business world and forest conservation. APP and its suppliers manage more than 2.5 million hectares of land in Indonesia and produce more than 15 million tons of pulp, paper, and packaging globally every year. Strong action by APP could indicate that the industry is heading for a more sustainable future.

The question is whether APP will follow this positive announcement with action. The company does not have a strong track record, having defaulted on past commitments to end deforestation.

But APP has something else going for it this time around. A rapidly evolving world of improving corporate practices and powerful technology could provide the right enabling environment for APP’s commitment—and others like it—to succeed.

Tuning In

Tracking Wood from Honduran Forests to U.S. Guitars

This publication is part of a series of case studies is intended to show commercial buyers of wood and paper-based products how their supply chains can conform with U.S. legal requirements on importing certain types of wood. The case studies, compiled by the Forest Legality Alliance, draw...

Interactive Forest Atlas of Congo - Atlas Forestier Interactif du Congo (Version 3.0)

Please see our Congo Basin Forest Atlases page for the latest versions of our Congo Basin Atlases, along with links to interactive maps, desktop mapping applications, GIS data, posters...

Updated Guide Helps Businesses Source Sustainable Wood and Paper Products

Forests are vitally important for the global environment, economy, and population. The forest sector employs 13.7 million workers and contributes to about 1 percent of the global GDP. Plus, an estimated 500 million people around the world directly depend on forests for their livelihoods.

But forests are also under threat. From 2000-2010, about 15 million hectares of the world’s forests were cleared, and a 2004 assessment estimated that 8-10 percent of the global wood trade is of illegal origin. In addition to deforestation, illegal logging can cause government revenue losses, poverty, unfair competition with legally sourced goods, unplanned and uncontrolled forest management, conflicts, and other illicit activities that can occur in instances where illegal logging’s proceeds are linked to organized crime and corruption.

But there are solutions. One way to improve forest management across the globe is for businesses, governments, and citizens to seek out and demand sustainably harvested wood and paper products.

Today, WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released the third edition of a guide that helps businesses develop sustainable policies and seek out sustainably harvested wood and paper products. The updated guide, Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-Based Products, is accompanied by a revamped website.

Interactive Forest Atlas of Cameroon - Atlas Forestier Interactif du Cameroun (Version 3.0)

Please see our Congo Basin Forest Atlases page for the latest versions of our Congo Basin Atlases, along with links to online interactive maps, desktop mapping applications, GIS data,...

An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part Two

This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

This is the second post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the causes of illegal logging in Latin America, while the second highlights potential solutions to this problem.

Latin America faces significant challenges in addressing illegal logging. As we noted in our previous blog post, several Latin American countries struggle when it comes to ensuring the legality of their forest products. Plus, there are claims that wood from countries with illegal logging problems is imported to Mexico to be processed and re-exported to other nations, including to the United States.

Combating Illegal Logging in Latin America

Participants at the Forest Legality Alliance’s (FLA) recent event in Mexico City, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective,” discussed the causes of Latin America’s illegal logging. They also identified potential ways to boost forest protection and sustainable management in the region. These strategies included the following:

An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part One

This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

This is the first post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the root causes of Latin America’s illegal wood trade, while the second highlights potential solutions to the problem.

Mexico exports a significant amount of wood, especially to the United States. In fact, based on data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the United States imported an estimated $1.4 billion worth of paper and timber products from Mexico in 2011.[^1]

But Mexico—and Latin America as a whole—struggle when it comes to ensuring legality in forest activities. Illegal logging is documented throughout several Latin American nations and prevalent in some, and there is a risk of importing products to the United States that are tainted with illegality.

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