The value of environmental crime now stands at USD 91-258 billion, 26 per cent higher than 2014 estimates. Weak laws and poorly funded security forces are among the reasons for this sharp increase, finds UNEP and Interpol in a new study.
The report, which was released to coincide with World Environment Day, reveals some deeply disturbing figures. The value of environmental crime has grown by 26 per cent since 2014’s estimates of USD 70-213 billion, according to an Interpol statement.
Environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, valued at around USD 3 billion, and is the world’s fourth largest criminal activity after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
In the last decade, environmental crime has risen by at least 5 to 7 per cent per year, which means it is growing two to three times faster than global GDP.
“The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling,” said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. “The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fuelling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business.”
Environmental crime includes the illegal trade in wildlife, corporate crime in the forest sector, the illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals, illegal fisheries, the trafficking of hazardous waste and carbon credit fraud, explains Interpol.
According to the report, weak laws and underfunded security forces are unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from a trade which is fuelling conflicts, devastating ecosystems and threatening species with extinction around the world.
“The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders,” explained Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock.
Together with UNEP, Interpol recommends strong action, legislation and sanctions at national and international levels to curb environmental crime. Examples include disrupting overseas tax havens or providing economic alternatives for those at the bottom of the environmental crime chain, such as poachers.
More than one quarter of the world’s elephant population has been killed in a decade, writes Interpol. In Tanzania alone, poachers have killed an average of 3,000 elephants per year in the past ten years, which corresponds to an annual street value for ivory traffickers of USD 10.5 million – five times greater than the national budget of the country’s wildlife division.
Worldwide, the amount of money lost from environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combatting it.