by Rhodri C. Williams
The BBC reported today on a new World Bank analysis of the scope and detrimental effects of illegal logging worldwide. There is of course no shortage of commentary on the challenges facing global forestry management and the consequences of failure to improve our performance. Just last month for instance, TN covered the latest report on the topic by Rights and Resources Initiative, which linked the failure to protect local forestry rights to the broader vulnerability of marginal communities to global patterns of large-scale investment in land and natural resources.
Nevertheless, the World Bank report does a neat job emphasizing the ties between illegal logging, corruption and chronic patterns of weak governance. In other words, the analysis supports a broadening in focus from the ‘blood diamond’ problem of natural resources supporting active conflict to a ‘sleaze timber’ (you read it first here!) emphasis on how natural resources can undermine the conditions for sustainable and equitable development. The report also does a good job foregrounding some fairly shocking statistics:
Every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers around the globe.
The World Bank estimates that illegal logging in some countries accounts for as much as 90 percent of all logging and generates approximately US$10–15 billion annually in criminal proceeds.
Mostly controlled by organized crime, this money is untaxed and is used to pay corrupt government officials at all levels.
The report focuses on criminal justice means to track the income generated by illegal logging and prosecute those responsible. While such approaches are important in terms of both returning ill-gotten revenues and preventing further cutting, they are unlikely in the short term to be able to address the social and cultural devastation wrought where past cutting has erased the spiritual homes and economic resource base of indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers. While it would be good to see more serious efforts to end the enormous damage caused by illegal logging, it is not at all clear how much of it can actually be undone.