ROME: Between 50 to 90 percent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia is being carried out by organized crime threatening efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty. Globally, illegal logging now accounts for between 15 and 30 per cent of the overall trade, according to a new report from the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL. Forests worldwide bind Carbon Dioxide and store it – known as Green Carbon – and help mitigate climate change. However deforestation, largely of tropical rainforests, is responsible for an estimated 17 percent of all man-made emissions – 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined. The Rapid Response Report entitled “Green Carbon: Black Trade” says that the illegal trade, worth between US$30-100 billion annually, hampers the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative – one of the principal tools for catalyzing positive environmental change, sustainable development, job creation and reducing emissions. With the increase in organized criminal activity, INTERPOL has also noted associated crimes such as murder, violence and atrocities against indigenous forest dwellers. The report concludes that without an internationally coordinated enforcement effort, illegal loggers and cartels will continue to shift operations from one haven to another to pursue their profitable trade at the expense of the environment, local economies and even the lives of indigenous peoples. The report was released at the World Forest conference in Rome at an event with UN REDD, a coalition of UNEP, the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). REDD and the expanded REDD+ initiative provide national and international legal frameworks, including agreements, conventions and certification schemes, to reduce illegal logging and support sustainable practices. The report said that if REDD+ is to be sustainable over the long term, payments to communities for their conservation efforts need to be higher than the returns from activities that lead to environmental degradation. “Funding to better manage forests represents an enormous opportunity to not only address climate change but to reduce rates of deforestation, improve water supplies, cut soil erosion and generate decent green jobs in natural resource management,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director. “Illegal logging can however undermine this effort, robbing countries and communities of a sustainable future, if the unlawful activities are more profitable than the lawful ones under REDD+,” he added. According to the report, criminal groups are combining old-fashioned tactics such as bribes with high-tech methods such as hacking government websites. Illegal operations are also becoming more sophisticated as loggers and dealers shift activities between regions and countries to avoid local and international policing efforts. While significant progress has been made through programs such as REDD+, most efforts are targeted at encouraging and creating incentives for legal trade – not combatting crime. Unfortunately, current economic incentives are rarely effective in reducing collusive corruption and illegal logging activities as there is little risk of being apprehended.