World Economy

Environmental Crimes Cost $258b

Environmental Crimes Cost $258bEnvironmental Crimes Cost $258b

Environmental crimes are rising due to weak laws and enforcement, costing the global economy as much as a record $258 billion, about a quarter more than previously estimated, the United Nations Environment Program and Interpol said.

The groups released a study on Saturday, on the eve of World Environment Day that said the proceeds from crimes ranging from illegal logging to the trafficking of hazardous waste and illicit gold mining are funding rebel groups and criminal syndicates. The scourge includes a rise in the poaching of elephants and rhinos, along with white-collar crimes, such as exploiting the carbon credit market, Bloomberg reported.

UNEP and Interpol said environmental crimes now cost between $91 billion and $258 billion, compared with a 2014 estimate of $70 billion to $213 billion.

“The last decade has seen environmental crime rise by at least 5-7% per year,” growing two to three times faster than global economic output, they said in an e-mailed statement.

Environmental crime is now the world’s fourth largest illicit enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking and has outstripped the illegal trade in small arms.

The agencies called for stronger actions such as legislation and sanctions, and for more investment, saying international agencies’ spending of $20 million to $30 million a year to combat the crimes is just a small fraction of the criminal proceeds.

In Tanzania, the market price for the 3,000 elephants killed each year is five times higher than the national budget of the country’s wildlife protection service.

Interpol is trying to encourage better coordination and intelligence sharing between the world’s national crime agencies. But a greater focus is needed on long-term investigations that can take down crime kingpins, as well as low-level poachers and smugglers.

  Sharp Increase

High profits and relatively low detection rates are driving a sharp increase in global environmental crime, with corporates and organized gangs becoming increasingly involved, they said.

It is now the fourth-largest area of criminal activity behind drugs, counterfeit crimes and human trafficking but few governments regard it as a priority, the study says, according to a FT report.

The forestry sector—particularly the pulp and paper industry in China and Southeast Asia—fisheries and mining are the largest areas of illegal activity.

Davyth Stewart, a senior Interpol investigator who contributed to the report, said: “These three industries have a legal component to them so the sheer volume passing through their legal channels provides the corporate infrastructure to hide illegal activity and illicit proceeds.”

  High-Priority Crime

Christian Nellemann, the report’s chief editor, said forestry-sector crime highlighted how sophisticated corporate criminals were becoming. “Unlike 10 to 15 years ago when they were just cutting down trees illegally, these networks are becoming so organized they ensure their activities have some form of legal permit.”

Up to 86% of all suspected illegal tropical wood entering the EU and US arrives in the form of paper, pulp or wood chips and not, as previously thought, in the form of roundwood (uncut logs), sawn wood or furniture products, the report says.

The scale of organized gangs’ involvement in environmental crime is demonstrated by the illegal mining in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Nellemann said. Of the estimated $660 million accrued in illegal activity annually from the region, only 2% is kept by the groups fighting there, with the rest going to criminal syndicates.

“It’s now seen more as a criminally-driven conflict than a political one,” he said, adding there was evidence of fighting breaking out between gold-smuggling cartels in neighboring countries.

Stewart said environmental crime proliferated largely because of the lack of political will to address it. “There are enough international agreements, there are enough laws on the books,” he said. “What there’s a lack of is capacity and willingness to treat it as a high-priority crime.”

Julian Newman, campaigns director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, welcomed the report but said law enforcement agencies “need to use new tactics” to combat the criminals.

Corruption is also a “key enabler” of environmental crime, Newman said. “We don’t see many places where anti-corruption laws are being used against port officials or customs agents.”