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18 Sep 06
Illegal Logging Costing Nations Billions - World Bank
Story by David Fogarty
SINGAPORE - Illegal logging is threatening the livelihoods of millions of the world's poor, robbing governments of billions of dollars in revenue and undermining legitimate logging businesses, the World Bank said on Saturday.
In developing countries, illegal logging of public lands alone causes estimated losses in assets and revenue in excess of $10 billion a year, the Bank said in a report released on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank meetings in Singapore. A further $5 billion in revenue was lost each year through tax evasion and loss of royalties on legal logging.
Katherine Sierra, the Bank's vice president for sustainable development, said nearly a fifth of humanity was dependent on forests for some part of their livelihoods. Better law enforcement and land management were essential to protect their futures and lift them out of poverty, she said on Saturday.
"Forests are a global public good, and their degradation imposes global costs such as climate change and species loss," said the report. "Despite the magnitude of the problem, there are few instances of prosecution and punishment," the report said. "In fact, if there are prosecutions it is the poor, looking to supplement their meagre livelihoods, who are victimised and sent to jail. Large-scale operators continue with impunity."
It said illicit cash from illegal logging needed to be targetted and that anti-money laundering and asset forfeiture laws were important tools to fight forest clearing, corruption and organised crime.
The report includes estimates of illegal logging rates as a percentage of total production in 17 countries, from Bolivia to Myanmar and Vietnam. Approximately two-thirds of those countries have illegal logging rates of at least 50 percent. In Indonesia, between 70 and 80 percent of all logging was illegal, in Bolivia it was 80 percent, while in Cambodia it was estimated at 90 percent.
Law enforcement in Indonesia, where large areas of tropical forests are being destroyed each year, was a particular problem, the report said. Indonesian investigators had limited capacity to collect evidence and press for prosecution because they had insufficient understanding about recent forest laws and sanctions, court procedures and forest crimes. Such work was also dangerous.
"There have been numerous cases where forest police, park rangers, and members of NGOs have been injured or killed for attempting to suppress illegal timber theft," the report said.
The report also highlighted China's huge appetite for timber, with imports rising from US$6 billion in 1996 to US$16 billion in 2005. The timber came principally from Russia's far east, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Thailand.
"It is feared that the Chinese demand, which does not currently distinguish between legally and illegally produced timber for imports, is escalating the problem of illegal logging," the report said.
China has denied it is plundering the world's forests to feed exports to the West but many conservation groups dispute this.
While the fate of the world's forests looks bleak, the Bank said that in recent years, illegal logging had shifted from an almost taboo subject to now being part of an open dialogue between governments on sustainable forest management.
Underscoring this, officials launched the G8 Illegal Logging Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday that comprises lawmakers from G8 nations, plus China, India and other top timber producting nations, along with timber companies and NGOs. The dialogue aims to agree on a practical plan of action to address illegal logging and will present a set of recommendations to the G8 in 2008.
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