Illegal logging has fallen by 22 per cent worldwide in the past decade according to a report published on Thursday by Chatham House, the think-tank.

The assessment found that that in certain key countries the decline was even more dramatic, showing a fall of between 50 and 75 per cent in the Brazilian Amazon, 75 per cent in Indonesia and by about half in Cameroon.

Tougher government policies and better governance played a key role in reducing the incidence of felling trees illegally.

“Up to a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on forests, and reductions in illegal logging are helping to protect their livelihoods,” said Sam Lawson, lead author of the report and a Chatham House associate fellow.

In the past decade, an area of about 17m hectares of forest – bigger than England and Wales combined – was saved by tackling illegal timber production, the report found. If such efforts continued, the world could prevent the release of about 14.6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the report said.

Deforestation is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and governments around the world have been trying for years to set up a mechanism by which poor forested nations can be paid by rich countries to keep their trees standing, as this would be one of the cheapest ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The report studied Brazil, Indonesia, Cameroon, Malaysia and Ghana, and looked into the entry of timber into markets in five consumer countries – the US, Japan, the UK, France and the Netherlands – and at factories in two processing countries – China and Vietnam.

But the report also made clear that in spite of the decline in illegal logging, it remains a serious problem.

In 2008, companies in the US, Japan, the UK, France and the Netherlands bought 17m cubic meters of illegal timber and wood products, worth about $8.4bn.

Most of this came in the form of processed products such as plywood and furniture, mainly from China.

“If laid end to end the illegal logs would encircle the globe more than 10 times over,” said Larry MacFaul, co-author of the report.

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