Weak laws and poorly funded security forces enable criminal networks to profit from the plunder of Earth's resources.
Eco-crime value hits record high at up to $258 billion dollars, recording a 26% increase compared to 2014, according a report published on June 4 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL.
"The rise of Environmental Crime" explains environmental crime includes, the illegal trade in wildlife, corporate crime in the forestry sector, illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals, illegal fisheries, the trafficking of hazardous waste and carbon credit fraud.
Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be $7-23 billion per year; forestry crimes $50-152 billion; illegal mining $12-48 billion; illegal fisheries $11-23 billion and waste $10-12 billion. Environmental crime costs governments $9-26 billion annually through lost tax income.
It is the world's fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. International agencies spend 10,000 times less money in combating it ($20-30 million) than the money lost due to it.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Interpol and UNEP have joined forces to bring to the attention of the world the sheer scale of environmental crime. The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, and fuel insecurity around the world."
"The result is not only devastating to the environment and local economies, but to all those who are menaced by these criminal enterprises. The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end."
More than a thousand rangers have been killed worldwide against heavily armed poachers in the last decade. In Tanzania, the government has partnered with INTERPOL to train over 2,000 rangers to locate poachers killing elephants in the bush.
In Colombia, the rebel group FARC makes an estimate of $12 million every year from extorting illegal gold miners. In the Amazon region, armed groups tax gold, coltan and timber to fund their operations.
Eco crime has larger consequences like danger to ecosystems. In the Amazon, artisanal miners tip 30 tonnes of mercury into the region's rivers and lakes every year, poisoning fish and humans, in which brain damage can happen to people living as far as 400km downstream.
Illegal logging causes deforestation which leads to loss of ecosystem services like clean water and clean air. Forests loss impacts the mitigation of climate change as well.
More so, criminal activities threaten the climate. in 2010 about 800 tonnes of ozone depleting substances were seized and in 2014 unwanted trade in more than 545 tonnes of the same substances was prevented.
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said, "environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace. The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi- sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders."
The report recommends strong action, legislation and sanctions at national and international levels, with measures like disrupting overseas tax havens; increasing financial support; economic incentives and alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the environmental crime chain.
It is important to raise awareness about the threat environmental crime poses to sustainable development as the report finds that weak laws and poorly funded security forces are enabling international criminal networks and rebels to profit from it.
In 2015 INTERPOL coordinated 2 operations in wildlife, fisheries and forestry crime in Latin America.
Operation Amazonas II targeted illegal logging and trade of timber in 12 countries across Central and South America. It led to the seizure of more than 53,000 cubic meters of illegal timber, enough to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In addition 25,000 logs and 1,200 sacks of charcoal were recovered and 200 individuals were arrested.
Operation Pescam in 9 Latin American countries resulted in the identification and disruption of criminal networks behind the illegal trade of shark fins, illegaltrade of rotected species such as iguanas maritimas, sea cucumber and sea horses and the illegal trade of bill fish called Pez Vela in Guatemala.
Latin American Post