Environmental crime on the increase

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The value of environmental crime is 26% up on previous estimates, having grown to between $91 to $258 billion now compared to previous estimates of $70 to $213 billion 18 month ago, according to a rapid response report published this week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL.

“The Rise of Environmental Crime”, released to coincide with World Environment Day (June 8), finds weak laws and poorly funded security forces have been unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from a trade that fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening species with extinction.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fuelling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business. It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late”.

According to the report, environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at about $3 billion. It is the world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The amount of money lost from environmental crime is 10 000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combating it – just $30 million.
“Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace. The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders. Through its global policing capabilities, INTERPOL is resolutely committed to working with its member countries to combat organised crime networks active in environmental crime,” INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said.

The report finds the last decade has seen environmental crime rise by at least seven percent a year.

This means environmental crime – including the illegal trade in wildlife, corporate crime in the forestry sector, the illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals, illegal fisheries, the trafficking of hazardous waste and carbon credit fraud – is growing two to three times faster than global GDP.

In addition, more than a quarter of the world’s elephant population has been killed in a decade. Some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife, including rhinos and elephants, are being killed at a rate that has grown by more than 25% every year over the last 10 years. In the same period, poachers have killed an average of 3 000 elephants a year in Tanzania. That’s an annual street value for ivory traffickers of $10.5 million, an amount five times greater than the entire national budget of the country’s wildlife division.

The report recommends strong action, legislation and sanctions at national and international level, including measures targeted at disrupting overseas tax havens; a massive increase in financial support commensurate with the serious threat environmental crime poses to sustainable development; and economic incentives and alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the environmental crime chain, such as poachers.

South Africa is badly affected by poaching, particularly of rhinos, and last year lost 1 175 rhinos to poachers – 40 less than 2014’s all-time high of 1 215. Continentally, the number of African rhinos killed by poachers has increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1 338 rhinos killed by poachers across Africa in 2015, according to new data compiled by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG).

This is the highest level since the current crisis began to emerge in 2008. Since then poachers have killed at least 5 940 African rhinos, IUCN said.



South Africa currently conserves 79% of Africa’s rhinos and has suffered the bulk (85%) of poaching on the continent since 2008. The country’s vast Kruger National Park is home to the world’s largest rhino population and has borne the brunt of the killing.