The wildlife trade summit taking place this week in Johannesburg, South Africa is bringing countries together to decide on the future of fragile species by making decisions that will conserve them and combat wildlife crime.
Already countries have agreed to ban all international commercial trade in pangolins, the most-trafficked animal in the world and one of the species features in the UN Environment-led Wild For Life campaign to end the illegal trade in wildlife.
This is a welcome step, and hopefully there will be more to come as the meeting continues into next week. However, there is also the need to recognize, and act on, the very real link between environmental crime and other types of international organized crime.
Environmental crime, including the illegal exploitation of timber, fisheries, gold, minerals, oil, and trafficking in wildlife and hazardous waste, is the fourth largest criminal enterprise in the world and is rising by 5 – 7 per cent annually.
Bringing criminals profits of $US258 billion each year, environmental crime robs governments of revenues while acting as a driver of conflicts and threat finance through organized crime and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
Criminal gangs are increasingly consolidating their various enterprises and trying to tap into the profits available, which is why UN Environment the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) are increasing their efforts to tackle the problem.
“We need a comprehensive strategy to combat illegal activities carried out globally by criminal entities to generate profits,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of UN Environment, said at an event during the UN General Assembly last week. “These criminal activities result in harm to ecosystems, cause damages to environmental quality such as loss of biodiversity and the overexploitation of natural resources”.
At the event—which brought together ministers and law enforcement experts from around the world to address the convergence of environmental crime with other types of crime, including fraud, tax evasion and cyber-crime—UN Environment and INTERPOL signed a cooperation agreement to strengthen their partnership.
“Environmental crime has far-reaching implications due to the low risk of getting caught and the great opportunity for financial gain,” said Roraima Andriani, INTERPOL’s Director of Organized and Emerging Crimes.
INTERPOL and UN Environment will shortly launch a report revealing that over 80 per cent of responding countries surveyed now consider environmental crime to be a national priority.
The report will also expose the sheer scale, scope and complexity of environmental crime and the urgency with which the global community must act to stop it. And action is already growing.
Speaking to the gathered experts at the assembly, Amina Mohammed, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya, said that her country has a taskforce for wildlife security, strong penalties for poaching, an extradition agreement with Italy and a special unit for public prosecution of wildlife crime.
Environment Minister and UN Environment Assembly President, Edgar Gutiérrez Costa Rica, said his country was greatly impacted by illegal logging and loss of marine environment to poaching. Gutiérrez called for strengthened rule of law and a basis for environmental prosecution, such as the recent move by the International Criminal Court to begin prosecuting environmental destruction cases.
Costa Rica established a commission to mobilize human and financial resources to address the issues.
Corruption is another issue that must be addressed, according to Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway.
“The first line of defense against environmental crime is governments,” he said.
For more information on UN Environment’s work on environmental crime, please contact niamh.brannigan[at]unep.og