in partnership with

For more information, please contact the project leader, Annette Hüblesche-Finch: annette.hubschle@globalinitiative.net

Once considered a relatively small-scale and opportunistic criminal activity, environmental crimes have emerged as a human security issue in the post–Cold War era. Beyond the poaching and trafficking of wildlife, the illegal or irregular extraction of natural resources; logging; mining; overfishing; trafficking of toxic, nuclear or electronic waste; and industrial dumping have all become areas of concern. Many environmental pressures, by virtue of their nature, are concentrated in areas removed from the immediate control of the state; in national parks or on private land, and in remote rural areas or hinterlands. This enables criminal actors to operate under the radar, inflicting incalculable damage to ecosystems and local communities, who often rely on such ecosystems for their livelihoods. State and non-state actors make increasing use of military and security measures and tactics to disrupt illegal wildlife economies. Such measures have huge impacts on local communities that are yet to be fully understood. . At an international level, concerns over diminished access to scarce natural resources, the illegal trade in wildlife, species extinction, climate change and threats to biodiversity have led to the incorporation of environmental issues into global security agendas. The increasing politicisation and securitisation of these environmental issues and associated agendas have become another platform for North–South conflict. Much of the existing discourse is couched in narratives of development versus conservation or humans versus nature. The result of these distinctions is an emphasis on conflict-laden relationships between humans and ecosystems. With most of the remaining biodiversity located in the southern hemisphere, important actors in the Global South query the influence of northern countries in charting the future towards a sustainable planet. The time is ripe for new voices and alternative solutions to be heard.

It is against this background and in light of sparse research and policy capacity emerging from southern Africa that the Environmental Security Observatory (ESO) located at the Institute for Safety Governance of the Global South at the University of Cape Town aims to provide nuanced approaches and contextualized empirical evidence. ESO is a joint initiative of the Institute and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. Its objective is to undertake rigorous independent social sciences research that will form the basis for sound evidence–based interventions to reduce environmental crimes. The key research question asks how illegal and legal global wildlife economies operate. We will also study:

• how criminal actors and local communities are incentivised to participate in illegal wildlife economies;
• the impacts that military and security measures and tactics have on local communities;
• how different segments of wildlife supply chains are interlinked; and
• how demand is factored into value and supply chains for illegal wildlife economies.

Once we gain a better understanding of wildlife trade that is damaging/beneficial to ecological systems, we will develop evidence-based policy research that identifies the most appropriate leverage points to disrupt illegal wildlife economies and strengthen legal ones. Of particular interest are local communities, livelihoods and reward systems; and, how their behaviour shapes/is shaped by illegal and legal wildlife economies. ESO plans to employ ‘citizen research’ methodologies to gain a grassroots understanding of local communities, the ecosystems that sustain them, and community problems and aspirations. In essence, local community members will be trained as ‘community researchers’, collecting data and devising policy interventions.

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