Environmental crime affects all sectors of society

KARACHI: Environmental crime – from the illegal trade in wildlife and timber and the smuggling of ozone depleting substances to the illicit trade in hazardous waste and illegal fishing – is a serious and growing international problem, whose impacts transcend national borders.

Environmental crime affects all sectors of society and is often linked with the exploitation of disadvantaged communities, human rights abuses, violence, conflict, money laundering, corruption and international criminal syndicates. Wildlife crime alone is estimated to be worth USD $15 – 20 billion annually and is recognized as the fourth largest global illegal trade behind illegal drugs, human trafficking and trade armaments.

Studies indicate that the illegal trade in wildlife and timber may help finance terrorism and organized crime across the world. The same routes used to smuggle wildlife across countries and continents are often used to smuggle weapons, drugs and people.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that up to 14,000 tonnes of CFCs, worth approximately USD $60 million were smuggled into developing countries annually up to 2006. At the same time, electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world.

Up to 50 million tons of e-waste is generated annually with only a 10 per cent recycling rate. Shipments of waste across the globe are in some cases contravening the UNEP-hosted treaty, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing accounts to 11 – 26 million tonnes a year, equivalent to 15 percent of world catches.

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, “The theft of natural resources by the few at the expense of the many is rapidly emerging as a new challenge to poverty eradication, sustainable development and a transition towards an inclusive Green Economy when one looks at the scale and breadth of these criminal activities”.

“Interpol along with United Nations bodies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is at the forefront of the response to this challenge and UNEP is committed to supporting their work and the evolution of the rule of law into the realm of environment and sustainability,” he added. “The sharp rise in the poaching of elephants and rhino in Africa may be the issues that are grabbing the headlines. But as this week’s forum shows the breadth of environmental crime does not end here. Whether it be timber or fisheries or the dumping of hazardous wastes, improved intelligence gathering, focused police work, strengthened customs capacity and the engagement of the judiciary are all going to be vital pieces towards our shared ambition of a less crime-ridden and more just world,” said Mr. Steiner.

INTERPOL and UNEP are working together to enhance environmental compliance and enforcement at the national level and across borders. The first Executive Level Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee (ECEC) Meeting (to be held in Nairobi from 7 to 8 November) will look into developing and implementing innovative strategies to combat environmental crime, working with governments, international organizations and local communities.

This week’s meeting comes amid growing concern of the resurgence of elephant poaching. Populations of elephants in Africa continue to be under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory grows – with double the numbers of elephants killed and triple the amounts of ivory seized over the last decade.

According to a recent report by UNEP and partners, the systematic monitoring of large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia is indicative of the involvement of criminal networks, which are increasingly active and entrenched in the trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia. An estimated 17,000 African elephants were illegally killed in 2011 at sites monitored by CITES (a UNEP-hosted convention) that are believed to hold around 40 per cent of the total elephant population in Africa.

Large-scale seizures of ivory (consignments of over 800 kg) destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011. Large movements of ivory that comprise the tusks of hundreds of elephants in a single shipment are indicative of the increasingly active grip of highly organized criminal networks on Africa’s illicit ivory trade.

These criminal networks operate with relative impunity as there is almost no evidence of successful arrests, prosecutions or convictions. The prevalence of unregulated domestic ivory markets in many African cities, coupled with the growing number of Asian nationals residing in Africa also facilitates the illegal trade in ivory out of Africa. Poaching is spreading primarily as a result of weak governance and rising demand for illegal ivory in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, particularly China, which is the world’s largest destination markets.

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