Deforestation is a threat to the environment, our human rights and the livelihoods of communities across the world.

There are things that can be done to protect forest ecosystems and prevent deforestation. One of the options is litigation. Forest defence litigation is a broad term that includes different types of legal action that aim to combat deforestation and improper forest management.

This is a step-by-step guide designed to introduce you a range of legal responses that may be available to you to fight deforestation. It is also designed to help you think about which response may be right for you, your community or your organisation. It is intended to help anyone who lives in or cares about forests, but particularly community groups, NGOs/CSOs and lawyers.

In particular, this guide provides guidance on using the following types of law and legal action to protect forests:

  • National Laws and Codes;
  • International/Regional Laws and Conventions;
  • Acquisition of Forest Land/Rights in Forest Land;
  • Challenges to Unauthorised Deforestation (e.g. EIA/ESIAs);
  • Other Mechanisms;
  • Climate Change Issues;
  • Supply Chain Accountability; and
  • Non-judicial Remedies.

Many countries have laws protecting forests. Sometimes they can be relied upon and enforced in the place where the forest is. Often even if there is a law it cannot be enforced in the place where the forest is. This may be because the local authorities are too busy or lack resources. Or there may be corruption, or threats against those who protect the forest.

Sometimes there are no national laws to protect the forest. Even if this is the case there may be ways of protecting the forest, by use of legal action in another country or internationally.

It may be possible that more general environmental laws can be used to protect forest land and communities. This Guide will introduce and cover these issues in the following sub-pages.


Scope and Purpose of the Action4 Justice Forest Litigation Guide

This Guide is designed to help you think about whether forest defence litigation is right for you. It provides an introduction to the different types of claims you could bring, legal strategies that could help you bring such claims, and highlights organisations and other resources that could help your case. You can also find a PDF copy of the Guide here.

This Guide is not a substitute for legal advice. If, after reading the Guide, you want to explore the possibility of taking climate litigation further, seek legal advice from a lawyer or an organisation that could help you start your case. For more information, see Where Can I Get More Information and Support at Sub-Page 12 of this Guide.


Legal Action to Protect Forests

This guide is intended to provide practical “how to” guidance to using legal intervention to protect forests and those living in them. It is for anyone, but particularly community groups, lawyers and NGOs/CSOs. As this guide is intended to give you an overview of the legal principles and the international mechanisms, conventions and agreements that exist to protect forests, it is not always applicable in each case and every country.  The law and the different ways in which they can be used in each country. This guide is intended to add to and not replace the skills and resources of those working in specific countries, with an emphasis on international and regional laws, conventions and agreements.

Some general introductory points may help the reader to make the most of this guide and increase the chance of successful legal action:

  • Many countries have laws which protect forests and those who live in them, but they are not readily enforced due to lack of resources, corruption or lack of political will;
  • Many of the problems in protecting forest overlap with other issues such as Land Rights, Climate Change, Business and Human Rights. You may be able to make a successful legal intervention with relying on laws designed to protect forests
  • Many successful legal actions require use of a combination of local laws and procedures with international mechanisms or treaties or laws
  • Although laws and procedures are different in every country, often examples of successful legal action in one country may be adapted and used in a different country
  • Sometimes, the solution to a problem lies outside the country where it happens. So, to combat deforestation in Colombia or the Democratic Republic of Congo, it might be appropriate to take legal action in Europe or the USA. This is because often the ultimate drivers of deforestation are companies based in these places or financed by banks or institutions based there.


The A4J Forests Legal Defence Guide was authored and prepared by:

  • Hannah Blitzer – Executive Committee Member and Climate Change and Biodiversity Liaison Officer at Action4Justice, Consultant in environmental and human rights law and policy, PhD Candidate at the University of Sussex
  • Richard Lord Q.C. – Chair of the Governance Group at A4J, Queen’s Counsel at Brick Court Chambers

A4J would like to thank Manon Barnes and Daisy Walker for their contributions in conducting research on the Guide:

A4J would also like to thank the following persons for their contributions in reviewing and providing feedback on the Guide:

  • Fernanda Venzon and Nick Hesterberg, Environmental Defender Law Center
  • The legal team at Greenpeace International 
  • The Climate & Forests team at ClientEarth
  • Maud Sarliève, AllRise
  • Lucy Claridge, Forest Peoples Programme
  • Dr Anthony Alexander, University of Sussex Business School
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