Scale of illegal logging

Scale of illegal logging

Illegal logging is a global issue, affecting most forested countries. Estimating the scale of illegal logging is challenging due its illicit nature. However in-depth investigations into forestry practices from around the world, as well as research into the timber trade, all indicate that it is a substantial problem.

For example, a 2004 report estimated that between 5 and 10% of the value of the global wood products trade was likely to have been illegally sourced (Seneca Creek Associates & Wood Resources International, 2004). Research published in 2010 by Chatham House concluded that illegal harvesting represented 35-72% of logging in the Brazilian Amazon, 22-35% in Cameroon, 59-65% in Ghana, 40-61% in Indonesia and 14-25% in Malaysia. Extrapolating from these figures, it was estimated that globally more than 100 million cubic metres of timber were harvested illegally each year. On a more positive note, the same study also concluded that illegal logging had reduced significantly between 2000 and 2009 (Lawson & MacFaul, 2010). 

However, an update of this analysis by Chatham House found that illegal logging is on the rise again. This is the result of three major changes in the forest sector. First, new markets for timber have diluted the impact of policies introduced by some developed countries; most notably with a rise in demand for timber in China and in many tropical ‘producer’ countries. Second, forest conversion to agriculture and other land uses is on the rise. As much as half of all tropical timber traded internationally is now sourced in this way, of which nearly two-thirds is thought to be illegal (Forest Trends, 2014). Third, logging by small-scale producers has soared in many countries. Such activity is often illegal and lies beyond the scope of many policy and regulatory efforts (Chatham House, 2015).

Indicators of Illegal Logging

Chatham House has been measuring the effectiveness of global and national responses to tackling illegal logging and trade, through the ‘Indicators of illegal logging project’. This project, which began in 2006, measures the nature and extent of illegal logging and the associated trade in illegal timber, and the effectiveness of the response by both the government and the private sector in a number of producer, processing and consumer countries. The first phase of the project measured progress in twelve countries. The second phase of the project has reassessed these countries and added another seven countries. The findings and dataset for this project are available on a dedicated website: