The Rise of Environmental Crime

Date posted: 
Jun 30 2016

/Nairobi, 4 June 2016 - The value of environmental crime is 26 per cent larger than previous estimates, at $91-258 billion today compared to $70-213 billion in 2014, according to a rapid response report published today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL.

The Rise of Environmental Crime, released on the eve of World Environment Day (WED), finds that weak laws and poorly funded security forces are enabling international criminal networks and armed rebels to profit from a trade that fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening species with extinction.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Interpol and UNEP have joined forces to bring to the attention of the world the sheer scale of environmental crime. The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, and fuel insecurity around the world.

"The result is not only devastating to the environment and local economies, but to all those who are menaced by these criminal enterprises. The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end."

Environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at about $3 billion. It is the world's fourth-largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The amount of money lost due to environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combatting it - just $20-30 million.

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said, "Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace. The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders. Through its global policing capabilities, INTERPOL is resolutely committed to working with its member countries to combat the organized crime networks active in environmental crime."

The report recommends strong action, legislation and sanctions at the national and international level, including measures targeted at disrupting overseas tax havens; an increase in financial support commensurate with the serious threat that environmental crime poses to sustainable development; and economic incentives and alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the environmental crime chain.

The last decade has seen environmental crime rise by at least 5-7 per cent per year. This means that environmental crime - which includes the illegal trade in wildlife, corporate crime in the forestry sector, the illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals, illegal fisheries, the trafficking of hazardous waste and carbon credit fraud - is growing two to three times faster than global GDP.

To combat the illegal trade in wildlife, the United Nations system and partners have launched their Wild For Life campaign, which draws on support from celebrities such as Gisele Bündchen, Yaya Touré and Neymar Jr. to mobilize millions to take action against poaching and the trafficking of illegal wildlife products.

Already, thousands of people and more than 25 ministers have chosen a species to show their commitment to protecting wildlife. The host of this year's World Environment Day, the Government of Angola, has joined the fight, promising to shut down its domestic trade in illegal ivory, toughen border controls and restore its elephant population through conservation measures.

More than one quarter of the world's elephant population has been killed in a decade. Some of world's most vulnerable wildlife, like rhinos and elephants, are being killed at a rate that has grown by more than 25 per cent every year in the last decade.

The report also looks at how money generated from the illegal exploitation of natural resources funds rebel groups, terrorist networks and international criminal cartels. In the last decade, for example, poachers have killed an average of 3,000 elephants per year in Tanzania. That's an annual street market value for ivory traffickers of $10.5 million, an amount that is five times greater than the entire national budget of the country's wildlife division.

Useful Stats

  • The value of the illegal wildlife trade is estimated by some to be $7-23 billion per year.
  • Illegal mining is estimated at $12-48 billion; waste at $10-12 billion; and illegal fisheries is estimated at $11-23 billion.
  • Environmental crime costs governments $9-26 billion annually through lost tax income.
  • In one INTERPOL operation in Venezuela in 2013 19,500 truckloads worth of illegally harvested timber was seized.
  • An estimated 50-90% of logging is illegal in many tropical countries, and is laundered through pulp and paper, or through shell companies posing as plantations.
  • The Colombian rebel group FARC makes an estimated $12 million every year from extorting illegal gold miners. In the Amazon region, armed groups tax gold, coltan (a mineral used in mobile phones) and timber to fund their operations.
  • In Tanzania, the government with support from partner agencies like INTERPOL have trained over 2,000 rangers as trackers to locate poachers killing elephants in the bush. The rangers are given training in tracking, crime scene management and tactics.
  • More than one thousand rangers have been killed worldwide against heavily armed poachers in the last decade.
  • Most rangers lack basic equipment such as uniforms, weapons, vehicles, radios, maps and the most basic accommodation.
  • The UN Security Council tasked on March 30th (2016) MONUSCO, the largest peacekeeping mission in the UN with over 21,000 troops in DRC and a Force Intervention Brigade with drones and attack helicopters, with preventing rebels from profiting from the plunder of natural resources.
  • The Security council has mandated MONUSCO to neutralize rebel groups and, for the first time, tasked the force with collecting information on the criminal networks involved in the conflict and the looting of resources like gold, coltan, timber and charcoal, a crime that generates more than half a billion dollars annually.
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