Illegal forest conversion

Illegal forest conversion

The term illegal forest conversion is used to describe illegal practices related to the removal of natural forests to meet other land uses, such as agriculture, infrastructure and mining (WWF, 2015). These illegal practices vary according to national legislation but can include clearing forests without the required permits, clearing in designated protected areas, failure to implement required environmental mitigation measures, or failure to comply with the provisions of a contract (Forest Trends, 2014).

Forest conversion often takes place in the context of complex, contradictory, and poorly implemented regulations governing forested areas. A lack of transparency around the process of permit allocation, regulatory loopholes, and unclear boundaries of authority between ministries and agencies can all contribute to illegal forest conversion (Forest Trends, 2014).

Illegal forest clearing for commercial agriculture and associated exports has taken place at an alarming rate since at least the start of the 21st century and it is believed to be responsible for half of all tropical deforestation since 2000 (Forest Trends, 2014).  Brazil and Indonesia together account for 75 percent of the global area of tropical forest estimated to have been illegally converted for commercial agriculture during 2000-2012 (Forest Trends, 2014).

The EU is a significant consumer of agricultural products that are sourced from illegal forest conversion. In 2012, the EU imported EUR 6 billion of soy, beef, leather and palm oil grown or reared on land illegally cleared of forests in the tropics – almost a quarter of the total world trade (FERN, 2015).

Growth in illegal forest conversion is negating some of the improvements in forest governance and progress in reducing illegal practices in the forest sector. Addressing this issue will require political commitment, as there are strong economic incentives for both illegal and legal conversion (Chatham House, 2015).