The UN-REDD Programme initiates efforts to combat illegal logging and trade and reduce the pressure on the forests of the Lower Mekong region.
The Lower Mekong basin is of global significance, boasting an incredibly high diversity of forest habitats. These forests are home not only to diverse and rare wildlife but are also relied upon by many communities for essential products and services. However, forest crimes, such as illegal logging and trade and the illegal conversion of forest land are pervasive across the region. There is a growing trend of investments from the expanding economies of China, Thailand and Viet Nam, to timber production and land intensive industries in the lower-income, higher forest cover countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. Given the gap in global supply and demand of wood products is expected to widen significantly by 2050, growth in supply from the region is also predicted to increase, adding further pressure on already stressed forest resources. It is critical to reverse this trend and support the expansion of a responsible and legal timber trade. This will help tackle forest crime, while also reducing poverty across the region.
New initiative to combat illegal logging and trade
To address forest crime and reduce pressure on forests in the region, the Government of Norway is collaborating with FAO and UNEP under the UN-REDD Programme to implement a new initiative that will support countries in the Lower Mekong region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) in addressing forest crime through improved governance.
Responding to evolving trends in the region and aligning with ongoing initiatives and national priorities, the new USD 8.8 million, two-year project will support these countries in addressing forest crime through improved governance and trade. Partnering with key regional and national institutions, the initiative will increase the effectiveness of systems designed to ensure a legal and sustainable trade in timber. A reduction in forest crime will ultimately lead to reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation and to more sustainable management of forests across the region.
Underlying weak governance issues, such as insecure land tenure, potentially conflicting legal frameworks, poor law enforcement and unclear management and enforcement responsibilities, can exacerbate illegality in the forestry sector. This initiative will support each country in the development of national standards, systems and capacities for verification of legal and sustainable timber, including through forest certification. It will also complement the support provided through the FAO-EU-FLEGT Programme for the development of Timber Legality Assurance Schemes and Voluntary Partnership Agreements between Lower Mekong countries and the European Union. It will also promote responsible investment and lending practices among Lower Mekong capital providers by raising awareness of the financial risks associated with illegal logging and land conversion and by highlighting emerging investment opportunities in sustainable timber production models.
The new initiative will be integrated into the existing UN-REDD Programme framework, allowing it to leverage more than a decade’s worth of valuable knowledge, networks and human capital accumulated since the Programme was launched in 2008.
Forest crime in the face of Covid-19
Combating forest crime is crucial for efforts to halt forest degradation and subsequent deforestation, which can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Estimated to amount to between USD 50–150 billion, crimes related to forests and wildlife are the fourth biggest crime sector after drugs, counterfeiting and trafficking (INTERPOL-UNEP, 2016)
In addition, there is a risk that in the rush to recover from Covid-19 and restart the engines of economic growth, environmental concerns will fall far down the list of national priorities. To prevent this, sustainability should be integrated into countries’ legislative and economic systems.
By supporting the existing regional dialogues and forums and addressing nationally-specific barriers to the implementation of their decisions, the project will also make efforts to address forests in a post-Covid-19 reality and advocate for economic recovery that does not occur at the expense of the region’s unique forest ecosystems or impact the substantial progress made by the forest sector in addressing climate change.