A new World Bank study on illegal logging reports that a football field of forest is clear-cut every two seconds around the globe and the problem is now a "global epidemic."
The report estimates that illegal logging accounts for as much as 90% of all timber felled each year, generating between $10 to $15 billion. The report says the logging is mostly controlled by organized crime, and ill-gotten gains are used to pay corrupt government officials at all levels to turn a blind eye.
"Forestry's criminal justice system is broken. Despite compelling data and evidence showing that illegal logging is a worldwide epidemic, most forest crimes go undetected, unreported, or are ignored," says the 56-page report released Tuesday. "All too often, investigations—in the rare event that they do take place—are amateurish and inconclusive."
A four-year study in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines -- four forest-rich countries -- found that the probability of illegal loggers being penalized is less than 0.1%
"We need to fight organized crime in illegal logging the way we go after gangsters selling drugs or racketeering," says Jean Pesme, Manager of the World Bank Financial Market Integrity team that helps countries combat illicit financial flows.
Estimates of financial losses from illegal logging don't consider "the enormous environmental, economic and societal costs— biodiversity threats, increased carbon emissions and undermined livelihoods of rural peoples," the report says.
"Large-scale illegal operations are carried out by sophisticated criminal networks, and law enforcement actions need to be focused on the 'masterminds' behind these networks—and the high-level corrupt officials who enable and protect them," the report says. "Pursuing these important targets through the criminal justice system will require creativity and a clear focus on those criminal justice rules and procedures that prove most effective."