Trees are wildlife too

26 July 2016

At the second meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), countries adopted a resolution on illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products calling for urgent action. The resolution called for countries to make illegal wildlife trade involving organized criminal groups, a serious crime.

From the perspective of REDD+, this resolution is compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement negotiations. Both have the potential to change the landscape by essentially making forest management a global issue of relevance to the challenge of climate change mitigation and efforts to combat illegal trade.

However, it is not yet clear how global efforts to address the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products will link to trees, timber and REDD+. People often think of elephants, rhinos, gorillas and orangutans when envisioning illegal wildlife trade, however, illegal timber trade and forest crime has an estimated worth of US$30 to US$100 billion annually, representing as much as half of the total value of illegal wildlife activities. When it comes to illegal trade, trees are wildlife too.

It follows, then, that the relevance of illegal trade in wildlife to the work of the UN-REDD Programme is significant. For example, Indonesia set ambitious climate change mitigation targets of which almost 90% will be realized through REDD+. At the same time Indonesia is the world’s largest source of illegal timber. Looking at other key partners to the UN-REDD Programme, a 2013 study estimated that more than 90% of total timber production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was illegal; in the Republic of Congo, this figure is 70%.

The UN-REDD Programme, and its 64 partner countries are taking steps to address illegal timber trade. Country approaches to safeguards aren’t just a requirement for receiving results-based payments for REDD+, they also establish reporting frameworks that can be used to address illegal timber trade. National Forest Monitoring Systems provide countries with the data needed to understand the scale and scope of illegal timber trade so that responses can be designed. Stakeholder engagement and support for sustainable forest-based livelihoods seek to change the behavior of local illegal timber operations.

The actions taken by the UN-REDD Programme are increasingly supported by advances in technology, capacity and investment. Recently timber DNA tracking technology led to the prosecution of four timber thieves in the US – the first successful conviction for illegal timber trade under US legislation. Drones equipped with cameras combined with radar equipped satellites spot illegal actions soon after they happen, greatly increasing the chances of finding and prosecuting the culprits. Tracking systems for logging trucks can trace timber back to its source, ensuring that it’s harvested from legal concessions.

To help better understand how emerging technologies and approaches can further support REDD+ implementation, a group of experts met in Nairobi to initiate a Rapid Response Assessment. This study was launched under the auspices of the Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP), a IUFRO-led initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The 2-day meeting identified the key issues in illegal timber trade and set the outline for a rapid assessment report, which will be launched at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to be held in Cancun, Mexico the 4 to 17 December, 2016.