The paradox of plenty: mineral trafficking, conflict and crime

Environmental crime is one of the most damaging, high profile and economically significant fields of global criminal activity. It is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an emerging issue. Yet within the last decade environmental crime has escalated significantly in terms of variety, volume, and value. Despite considerable international attention and action, environmental crimes are an increasingly rewarding activity for those who carry out the crimes, and a significant challenge for the wide range of actors who aim to defeat it.

Against this backdrop, the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime has developed a baseline assessment of organized environmental crime. This report is the culmination of consultations with over 150 environmental, development and criminal justice experts across the globe, and highlights the virulent threat that organized crime poses to the environment, and how poorly prepared we are to respond to this exponentially growing challenge.

Many crimes are still beyond our capacity to assess, but the report discloses some alarming statistics: the value of wildlife trade is an estimated US$19 billion a year, with a single rhinoceros horn netting $260,000 for criminal groups, for example. The value of illegal fishing is estimated at US$23 billion per year, and is forecast to trigger a complete collapse of the world’s fish stocks by 2048. Deforestation in the Amazon region increased up to 103% in 2012-2013, with estimated profits of US$100 billion for the illegal timber industry worldwide. In the Asia-Pacific region, some 80% of lumber is thought to be illicitly sourced.

Some commodities illicitly traded under the broad umbrella of ‘environmental crime’ are amongst the most valuable on earth. Environmental crimes have an impact broader than just natural resources and habitats: they affect human security in the form of conflict, rule of law and access to essentials such as safe drinking water, food sources and shelter. The loss of revenue and income through legitimate trade in natural resources restricts economic development and exacerbates income inequality. At a local level the involvement of elements of organized crime threatens communities and reduces opportunities to access sustainable and honest income as crime crowds out legitimate ways of making a living.

There is a need to take stock, and consider the efficacy of strategies relative to effort and investment. This is a luxury many organizations do not have, particularly those burdened by size and entrenched policy. If stocktaking were to take place, is there sufficient knowledge and expertise in this area of work to determine the right direction? Are appropriate and effective policies in place at a sufficiently high level to guide national governments, and those who fund enforcement efforts? Are there overarching, powerful issues, institutional or procedural bulwarks, or even specific individuals getting in the way of real progress?

Environmental crime responses have been developing significantly over the last decade. But as more and more financial resources are invested in projects and programmes, now is the time to consider how we develop actions over the forthcoming decade and beyond.

Through a baseline assessment report, and an expert Reference Group convened for the purpose, the Global Initiative aims to look beyond the value of and harm caused by environmental crime and examines our current responses; what works and what doesn’t? What are the most significant obstacles to tackling transnational organized environmental crime, and how does the international community overcome them? In conducting such analyses, we may understand how we can learn from successful initiatives and evolve even more effective solutions.

Across their various disciplines and areas of expertise, the experts involved in this study wished to communicate five key messages:

1. “Recognize the role of organized crime: Act now, different, better…”

2. “Corruption is the elephant in the room and we don’t say it enough”

3. “Capture the controllers, not the army of ants…”

4. “Draw on non-state resources and work better together”

5. “Unless we act now, we will lose…”

These are surprisingly consistent and universal messages, and serve as an imperative to the international community, national governments and individual citizens to recognize that this no longer as an environmental issue, but a criminal issue, and to use all of the tools at their disposal to respond urgently and coherently.

Read the Key Messages and Core Recommendations here:

Global Initiative – Organized Environmental Crime: Key Messages and Core Recommendations (June 2014)

Read the full “Baseline Assessment of Global Responses to Organized Environmental Crime” here:

Global Initiative – Global Response to Transnational Organized Environmental Crime (January 2014)

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