Putting a stop to global environmental crime has become an imperative.

Author:Steiner, Chim

The illegal trade in wildlife and timber has escalated rapidly and globally, and now encompasses a wide range of flora and fauna across all continents, including terrestrial and aquatic animals, forests and other plants and their products.

Overall global environmental crime, which is worth up to US $213 billion a year, is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups, threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations.

The consequences of environmental crime in general and the illegal trade in wildlife in particular span environmental, social, economic and security impacts, affecting the resource base for local communities, and resulting in the theft of sovereign natural capital.

Beyond immediate impacts on the environment, the illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenues just to stuff the pockets of criminals. Sustainable development, livelihoods, good governance and the rule of law are all being threatened, as significant sums of money are flowing to militias and terrorist groups.

The illegal trade in wildlife is recognized as the fourth most lucrative global crime, closely behind illegal drugs, trafficking in humans and arms. It is estimated that US $48-153 billion in resources is lost through illegal trade in wildlife globally each year, which is almost equivalent to the global official development assistance (ODA) of US $135 billion per year.

Illegal logging alone accounts for an estimated US $30100 billion in global annual loss of resources, representing 10-30 per cent of the total global timber trade.

A rapid response assessment, launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in June 2014, reveals that, while there is growing awareness, the responses to date in terms of impact have not been commensurate with the scale and growth of the threat to wildlife and the environment. The scale of wildlife and forest crime, as a threat to national economies, calls for much wider interventions and policy action.

The report, entitled The Environmental Crime Crisis, finds that one terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between US $38 and US $56 million per year from the illegal trade in charcoal. In total, militia and terrorist groups in and around African nations with on-going conflicts may earn between US $111 to US $289 million annually from their involvement...

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