Illegal Logging in Indonesia: Environmental, Economic, & Social Costs Outlined in a New Report

Illegal logging has a huge impact on the loss of tropical forests in the key countries that account for the vast majority of deforestation (as I discussed here).  These forests are being lost at the rate of two football fields a minute and contribute the same amount of global warming pollution as all of the world’s transportation emissions, so stopping forest loss is critical to our efforts to address global warming.  And no country is as important in these efforts as Indonesia (Brazil and Indonesia are the two largest deforesting countries). 

A new report from labor and environmental organizations – the Blue Green Alliance, NRDC, United Steel Workers, Sierra Club, and Rainforest Action Network – looks at the environmental, economic, and social cost of the loss of Indonesia’s rainforests from illegal logging. 

Here are some snippets from the report.

Indonesia’s forests are large and are being lost at alarming rates.  Indonesia’s forests cover approximately 463,300 square miles, slightly smaller than the forests of Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Indonesia’s forests are being lost at significant rates, which results in Indonesia’s global warming pollution ranked as 5th largest in the world (accounting for about 5% of the world’s emissions).  Between 1990 and 2005, approximately 108,110 square miles of Indonesian forest disappeared (an area larger than the State of Colorado), 77% of which were virgin forest (see graph for a visual of this loss).

Illegal logging is a major contributor to the loss of Indonesia’s forests.  A 2007 United Nations Environment Program report estimated that 73-88% of timber logged in Indonesia is illegally sourced.  More recent estimates place the figure at a lower, but still troubling rate of 40-55%.  And this illegal logging is not only costing the environment, but also the Indonesian people.  It is costing the Indonesian government an estimated $2 billion per year due to corruption, uncollected taxes, unacknowledged subsidies, and general poor management of resources.

Consumer appetite for pulp, paper, furniture, and palm oil (which is used for biofuels and in commodities such as margarine, toothpaste, chocolate, and soap), in nations such as the U.S., the European Union, Japan, China, and India are fueling the loss of Indonesia’s deforestation.  For example in 2007, 45% of Indonesia's wood exports went to the US, Europe, and China.*

We can and must take steps to address this loss.  Luckily the Indonesian government seems focused on addressing this issue to an extent that hasn’t been witnessed in the past.  As a part of the Copenhagen Accord, they committed to cut their global warming pollution by 26% by 2020 from business-as-usual levels (as we tracked here) – much of which will need to be achieved from reduced deforestation as it accounts for 80% of Indonesia’s emissions.  So there is some political momentum within Indonesia and we need to assist/nudge that momentum by utilizing all of the tools at our disposal.  Here are the ones that the report identified:

  • The Indonesian government must enforce existing forestry and anti-corruption laws and improve transparency and public access to information.
  • Trade in products created from illegal logging should be addressed as a trade subsidy and remedied through trade laws.
  • Trade and investment agreements should end demand for and trade in wood products that are illegally and or unsustainably sourced.
  • Adequate funding must be appropriated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Lacey Act.
  • Pulp and paper must be included in the Lacey Act import declaration requirement schedule so importers are held fully responsible for the materials they import.
  • Developed and developing countries must flesh out and implement REDD schemes with robust multi-level monitoring, reporting and verification systems, safeguards for community rights and tenure, and governance reforms that ensure lasting, sustainable growth with tangible benefits for local communities.  (Key provisions towards this aim were included in the House passed climate bill as I discussed here and hopefully included in the Senate bill as I discussed here).

Since deforestation is a significant contributor to global warming emissions we must take action to ensure that incentives for destruction of the world’s tropical forests are eliminated.  And we must aid the Indonesian government and its people in addressing this challenge, using every tool in our toolbox.  After all, addressing this challenge is in the U.S. interest as America’s farmers and ranchers recently pointed out (as I discussed here), and as labor has just pointed out.


* Source: Data from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, available at: