UNEP and INTERPOL Assess Impacts of Environmental Crime on Security and Development wo, nov 6, 2013

At First High Level Compliance and Enforcement Meeting in Nairobi

Credit: CITES

Nairobi, 6 November 2013 - 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.

Elephants in the Dust

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.

The high levels of poaching are, in some cases, facilitated by conflicts that, through lawlessness and ensuing abundance of small arms, provide optimal conditions for the illegal killing of elephants.

Earlier this year, an INTERPOL-led operation targeting criminal organizations behind the illegal trafficking of ivory in West and Central Africa resulted in some 66 arrests and the seizure of nearly 4,000 ivory products and 50 elephant tusks, in addition to military grade weapons and cash.

Interventions across five countries - Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo, Guinea and Liberia - also resulted in the seizure of 148 animal parts and 222 live animals, including crocodiles and parrots, which were released back into the wild.

Illegal Logging and Project Leaf

Between 50 to 90 per cent of logging - in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia - is being carried out by organized crime, threatening efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty.

Globally, illegal logging - worth between US$30-100 billion annually - accounts for between 15 and 30 per cent of the overall global trade, according to a UNEP-INTERPOL report entitled, Green Carbon Black Trade.

The trans-national nature of illegal logging raises difficulties for law enforcement and regulators, who are often limited in their ability to work outside their own domestic jurisdiction.

INTERPOL's first international operation targeting large-scale illegal logging and forest crimes, in February 2013, resulted in almost 200 arrests as well as in the seizure of millions of dollars' worth of timber and some 150 vehicles across Latin America.

The operation, carried out under Project Leaf , an INTERPOL-UNEP initiative, was undertaken in 12 countries in Central and South America brought together law enforcement agencies to combat forestry crime in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

The resulting seizures of wood and related products during the operation are estimated to amount to more than 50,000 m3 of seized wood, equivalent to some 2,000 truckloads of timber. The total value of the seized timber is estimated at around USD 8 million.

One of the key aims of the operation was the development of practical cooperation and communication among national environmental law enforcement agencies, including forest authorities, police, customs, specialized units and international organizations.

Project Leaf supports countries to tackle illegal logging and forestry crime which undermine attempts to implement national and international forest protection policies and sustainable forestry practices.

The illegal trade hampers the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative - one of the principal tools for catalyzing positive environmental change, sustainable development, job creation and reducing emissions.

Internationally coordinated enforcement efforts need to be stepped up to prevent illegal loggers and cartels from  shifting operations from one haven to another to pursue their profitable trade at the expense of the environment, local economies and the lives of indigenous peoples.

Fishy Business

The world's marine fisheries are socially and economically vital, providing animal protein and supporting food security to over 1 billion people.

World fisheries deliver annual profits to fishing enterprises worldwide of about US$8 billion and support directly and indirectly 170 million jobs, providing some US$35 billion in household income a year, according to studies by UNEP's Green Economy team.

When the total direct, indirect and induced economic effects arising from marine fish populations in the world economy are accounted for, the contribution of the sector to global economic output is found to amount to some US$235 billion per year.

At the same time, pirate fishing accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of the world's catch and as much as 50 per cent in some fisheries, according to WWF estimates, with the value of pirate fish products estimated at between $10-23.5 billion annually.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 52 per cent of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, 16 per cent are overexploited and 7 per cent are depleted.

Project Scale is an INTERPOL initiative to detect, suppress and combat fisheries crime.

The project, launched in February 2013, aims to assess the needs of vulnerable member countries to effectively combat fisheries crimes and to conduct operations to suppress crime, disrupt trafficking routes, and ensure the enforcement of national legislation.

The project will conduct region- or commodity-specific operations tailored to the needs of vulnerable areas, such as the West African coastal region.

Illegal Trade in Electronic Waste

Electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, a consequence of rapid turnover of electronic devices, particularly in developed countries.

E-waste is often diverted to the black market to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling.

The first INTERPOL operation targeting the illegal trade of electronic waste in 2012 saw the seizure of more than 240 tonnes of electronic equipment and electrical goods and the launch of criminal investigations against some 40 companies involved in all aspects of the illicit trade.

The operation aimed to identify and disrupt the illegal collection, recycling, export, import and shipping of discarded electronic products such as computers, televisions and other electronic devices, before they are dumped in landfills or other sites where they can cause severe environmental harm.

Checks were conducted at major ports in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in Europe, a region considered to be a common source of electronic waste being shipped internationally, and in Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria in Africa, a region considered to be a destination for this waste. Almost one-third of the checks resulted in the discovery of illegal electronic waste. 

The operation also uncovered evidence of new concealment methods used by individuals and companies implicated in the illegal trade of electronic waste. This information will help the international law enforcement community work towards the elimination of these illegal activities.

Need for Firm and Strengthened Action

Environmental crime continues to be on the rise and is now one of the most profitable forms of organized crime.

Despite the international consensus on the need to address environmental crime, enhanced political support and financial investment are needed to tackle such crime more effectively.

INTERPOL encourages countries to establish multi-agency National Environmental Security Task Forces (NESTs) to further strengthen enforcement mechanisms.

The initiative aims to establish a common platform for national compliance and enforcement responses, so as to enhance both national and international efforts on ensuring current and future environmental security.

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) is the collaborative effort by five inter-governmental organizations - CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO) - working to bring coordinated support to the national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to the sub-regional and regional networks that, on a daily basis, act in defense of natural resources.

Each of the international organizations involved provides specialized expertise to the fight against wildlife crime. Among other actions, the ICCWC works to develop programmes to enhance awareness of wildlife crime; provide institutional analysis and support; build capacity of national institutions as well as regional and sub-regional enforcement organizations; and address the drivers of wildlife crime to reduce demand.

Penalties for environmental crime vary amongst national governments, where some states impose criminal sanctions for environmental offenses, while others rely on civil or administrative sanctions.

Imposing strict penalties for engaging in environmental crimes may have a significant deterrent effect.

Recovering assets and proceeds of environmental crime by "following the money trail" as well as freezing and ultimately confiscating proceeds to ensure that criminals do not benefit financially from their criminality is also crucial because the proceeds of environmental crime may be used to finance other serious crimes.

At the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability - organized last year by UNEP - a gathering of chief justices, heads of jurisdiction, attorneys general, auditors general, chief prosecutors and other high-ranking officials adopted a declaration recognizing the importance of "adherence to the rule of law" for sustainable development.

The declaration was submitted to and was reiterated at the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, where "firm and strengthened action" was called for to be taken on both the supply and demand sides to tackle the illicit trafficking in wildlife

Notes to Editors

INTERPOL - UNEP International Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Conference: http://bit.ly/HEBnnY

INTERPOL: http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Environmental-crime/Environmental-crime

Elephants in the Dust - The African Elephant Crisis (report): http://www.unep.org/pdf/RRAivory_draft7.pdf

Elephants in the Dust - The African Elephant Crisis (press release): http://bit.ly/HIYk8M

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES: http://www.cites.org/

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC): http://www.cites.org/eng/prog/iccwc.php

Basel Convention: http://www.basel.int/

World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability: http://www.unep.org/DELC/worldcongress/

Rio+20 Declaration on Environmental Justice, Governance and Law: http://bit.ly/1aEgZzg

Green Economy Initiative: http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/

E-waste: The Hidden side of IT's Equipment Manufacturing and Use: http://bit.ly/1dMIhT1

Green Carbon, Black Trade: http://www.unep.org/pdf/RRAlogging_english_scr.pdf

10 Side effects: Illegal Trade in Ozone Depleting Substances: http://www.grida.no/publications/vg/ozone/page/1395.aspx

Report of the UN Secretary-General on Illegal Fishing, Illegal Dumping and the Protection of Somali Natural Resources and Waters: http://unpos.unmissions.org/Portals/UNPOS/Repository%20UNPOS/S-2011-661%20%2825Oct%29.pdf

For more information, please contact: Shereen Zorba, Tel: +254 20 762 5022, shereen.zorba@unep.org or unepnewsdesk@unep.org

 
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