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Boom in wildlife crime

Leopard skin, Guangzhou, China Leopard skin, Guangzhou, China Attila JANDI
13 Aug
The world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise is the illegal trade in environmental products. Now both INTERPOL and the UN are calling for greater collaboration and leadership to combat these activities

Environmental crime is big business. A joint INTERPOL-UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report has revealed it to be 26 per cent larger than previous estimates – potentially worth as much as £175billion annually. That makes it the world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. By comparison, the illegal trade in small arms is valued at a mere £2billion per year.

The term ‘environmental crime’ includes everything from the illegal trade in wildlife (worth £5-16billion), logging (£34-103billion), and fisheries (£7-15billion), to the illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals (£8-32billion), the trafficking of hazardous waste (£7-8billion), and, to a lesser extent, even carbon credit fraud.

The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end

Furthermore, governments around the world are losing £6-18billion annually as a result of tax revenues from environmental activities disappearing into the black market. These latest figures indicate that environmental crime rates are climbing by at least five to seven per cent per year.

‘The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end,’ says Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. ‘The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, and fuel insecurity around the world.’

The enormous sums of criminal money involved dwarf the global funding available to tackle environmental crimes – roughly £14-20million per year. INTERPOL and the UNEP conclude that ‘a system-wide strategy, including in countries and across the international community, will be required to address the wider threats of environmental crime to peace, development, revenues and security.’ They urge greater recognition of the wider threats posed by the growing environmental crime sector, as well as for stronger leadership and legal powers to help clamp down on perpetrators.

This was published in the August 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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