Organised environmental crime is known to pose a multi-layered threat to human security, yet it has long been treated as a low priority by law enforcers, seen as a fluffy “green” issue that belongs in the domain of environmentalists. Once considered to be a relatively small-scale and opportunistic crime, often perpetuated by local communities, illegal wildlife trading now ranks among the most valuable illicit markets in the world.

But due to a variety of factors – including its escalation over the past decade, its links to terrorist activities, the rising value of environmental contraband and the clear lack of success among those trying to stem the tide – these crimes are inching their way up the to-do lists of law enforcers, politicians and policy makers alike. Environmental crimes, by their nature, tend to be concentrated in areas of low population density, in national parks and in remote areas or hinterlands, and can thus continue largely under the radar, inflicting untold damage to national and regional ecosystems. In addition, they result in revenue losses for the state and businesses, foster corruption, and increase overall insecurity.

The trade in ivory and rhino horn between Africa and Asia is also highly organised, and rhino and elephant populations have been dramatically reduced in several regions, most notably in Southern and Central Africa. A strengthened market for ivory in China has again raised the demand and led to significant increases in poaching. Illegal logging and trade in biodiversity products (flora and fauna) are environmental crimes that have existed for decades, but have only become a major concern in recent years.

The Global Initiative recognises that to successfully counter organised environment crime will require a multi-faceted approach that looks not only brings to bear the normative and criminal justice approaches, but that will also address the organised and illicit networks that underpin environmental trafficking, the extensive corruption that enables illicit flows, and which also look at the socio-economic conditions that give illicit trade in environmental products a local legitimacy.

Addressing environmental crime is a priority for the Global Initiative, which we realise through a range of dedicated projects:

  • Environmental Crime Law: through a range of methods, including a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to strengthen the international and national legal frameworks to counter transnational organised environmental crimes.
  • Spotlight Africa: A project that looks specifically at the trafficking of environmental resources from Africa and its impact on the continent, including a focus on the iconic species and the connection to conflict and stability.
  • Environmental Security Observatory (ESO) hosted in partnership with the University of Cape Town, which examines the pathways to address community involvement in environmental crime.

The Global Initiative has undertaken a range of catalytic research projects, as well as regularly convening seminars and discussions, drawing up on our expert network to broaden the knowledge basis and catalyse new responses.





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