Environmental crimes threaten global security, says UN

Illegal forestry and ivory products worth up to US $213 billion a year are helping fund terrorists, militants and criminals

By Snigdha Das
Published: Thursday 26 June 2014


As hundreds of environment ministers assemble at Nairobi for the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the UN has warned that high profits and low probability of being caught is fuelling environmental crimes, which now threatens the security and sustainable development of many nations.

Monetary value of these crimes, right from illegal logging, poaching, fisheries and mining to dumping of toxic waste, is between US $70 billion and US $213 billion a year, said the UNEP and Interpol in their report, The Environmental Crime Crisis. By comparison, the world’s rich countries disburse about US $135 billion a year as global Overseas Development Assistance. The report, which UNEP calls a rapid response assessment to provide some of the latest data, analysis and insights into environmental crimes, was released on Tuesday during the five-day event that will end on June 27.

According to the report, illegal logging and other illegal forestry trade have an estimated worth of US$30 to US$100 billion annually. This is 10 to 30 per cent of the total global timber trade. It is found that as much as 90 per cent of the wood in some individual tropical countries is suspected to come from illegal sources or has been logged illegally. Traders are able to smuggle the illegal timber by setting up networks of shell companies and legal plantations to supply pulp for the paper industry. An estimated 62 to 86 per cent of all suspected illegal tropical wood enters the EU and US in the form of paper, pulp or wood chips.

Illegal trade in fauna and flora (excluding fisheries and timber) is worth US$7 to US$23 billion dollars annually, says the report, which highlights poaching across many species, including tigers, elephants, great apes, Saiga antelopes and rhinos.

Poaching of rhinos fund militants in India

In Assam, which is home to 75 per cent of the world’s remaining great one-horned rhinoceroses, a multitude of armed groups, including tribal separatists, rebels, and Islamist terrorists poach within the Kaziranga national park and adjacent protected areas of Orang and Pabitora. At least 41 rhinos were poached in Kaziranga in 2013, double the number killed the previous year. Most were reportedly killed by AK-47s and .303 rifles used by militant groups. The horns are traded for weapons and cash to fund militant activities, says the report.

Almost two dozen militant organisations are active in the region, proliferating arms and impacting security, and creating opportunities for the penetration of transnational organized crime. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Bangladeshi terror groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, reportedly poach tigers, elephants, and rhino in the park to raise organisational operating funds. The groups have been claimed to have links with criminal syndicates in Nepal, Thailand and China, the report notes.

Crimes related to wildlife and forest play a major role in financing organised crimes and non-state armed groups, including terrorist organisations. Another such illegal trade involves ivory, which provides income to militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic and “horse gangs” in Sudan, Chad and Niger. Given the estimated elephant populations and the number of projected killed elephants within striking range of these militia groups, the annual income from ivory to militias in the sub-Saharan is up to US$12.2 million.

“Transnational criminal organisations are making immense profits by exploiting our natural resources to fuel their illicit activities, threatening the stability and future development of some of the world's poorest regions," said Interpol’s Executive Director of Police Services, Jean-Michel Louboutin. "While there is growing awareness of the dangers posed by wildlife crime, it will require a dedicated and concerted international effort among law enforcement and partner organizations to effectively combat this threat to global security," he added.

 “Beyond immediate environmental impacts, the illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenues just to fill the pockets of criminals,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Sustainable development, livelihoods, good governance and the rule of law are all being threatened, as significant sums of money are flowing to militias and terrorist groups.”

The report has issued 12 recommendations to curb environmental crimes. These call for coordinated efforts to strengthen environmental legislation and regulations, and alleviate poverty; identifying end-user markets and implementing consumer awareness campaigns; strengthening institutional, legal and regulatory systems to further combat corruption and ensure that the legal trade is monitored and managed effectively.

UNEP Report: The environmental crime crisis: threats to sustainable development from illegal exploitation and trade in wildlife and forest resources

CITES Report: Elephant conservation, illegal killing and ivory trade

Declaration: London Declaration on illegal wildlife trade

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