Illegal logging is fast becoming a worldwide problem. A huge 80% of the world’s forests have already been destroyed, and what is left is under dire threats from deforestation . Forests are being cleared at an ever increasing rate, either to harvest the timber or to make way for plantations of soy, oil palm, and many other crops. Although better rules and regulations are beginning to reduce the impacts of illegal logging, it still causes huge economic and social losses. In tropical third world countries in Central Africa, the Amazon Basin, and Southeast Asia, it is estimated that between 50 and 90% of forestry activities are illegal . The negative effects of illegal logging are numerous and include economic, environmental, and social problems.
- Biodiversity loss
The loss of forests throughout the world through illegal logging is a huge object of concern from a biodiversity point of view. Already endangered species of flora and fauna are being pushed closer to extinction due to widespread habitat destruction and fragmentation. The modern day extinction rate has reached 1000 – 10000 times the biological normal, which equates to 1 – 10 species per year. This translates to a biodiversity loss which has only been equalled in the past by catastrophic events, such as meteor impacts or huge volcanic eruptions. According to scientists, this may just be the beginning. The term ‘extinction debt’ is used in scientific circles to describe the fact that species extinction has a time lag – we won’t see the full impacts of deforestation for years to come .
- Climate change and pollution
Illegal logging and deforestation play a huge role in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Forests regulate local climates and are a significant carbon sink, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels . Not only does illegal logging and deforestation lead to a lower land area with forest cover, but it also accounts for approximately 11% of carbon emissions .
Recent studies give even worse news, as they suggest that removing large areas of forest may impact climates worldwide. For example, some models suggest that deforestation in the Amazon Basin could reduce rainfall over the US Midwest and northeast China, while increasing rainfall in eastern Africa and northern Europe. Forests cool the air around them and once they are gone, air current patterns will change, impacting climates worldwide .
- Lower standard of living for indigenous populations
Illegal logging destroys the lives of local communities and native populations. When the forest goes, so does their traditional way of life. Unable to live by foraging and trading, they begin to rely on the logging companies for food and an income, and become caught up in what can only be described as modern day slavery. Ancient tribal cultures are lost in the space of one generation, as remote communities become a shadow of what they once were .
- Loss of revenue for governments
Not only does illegal logging have massive environmental ramifications, it can also be economically crippling for poorer countries. It is estimated that illegal logging depresses world timber prices by between 7% and 16% per year, and causes a global loss of revenue of around US$ 15 billion per year. Governments lose money due to lost revenue from taxes and duties as well as the cost of managing illegal logging . Not only are governments losing out today, but the loss of these valuable natural resources could cause major economic problems in the future.
It is clear that illegal logging impacts not only the country where it is happening, but the entire world. While it may seem that we are free from the direct impacts, there are flow-on environmental, climatic, and economic problems which will hurt us for decades to come. Everyone has the responsibility to ensure they aren’t supporting this terrible environmental crime by making sure that they only purchase products which come from a known sustainable source.