The UNEA (United Nations Environment Assembly) published a report drafted by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the Interpol entitled: “The environmental crime crisis: threats to sustainable development from illegal exploitation and trade in wildlife and forest resources”. According to this report, environmental crimes are no longer an emerging issue but a significant and affirmed reality that accounts for more or less 213 billion dollars per year. This amount is more frightening when compared to the total Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the year 2013: about 135 billion dollars. If this comparison is not enough to clarify how environmental crimes hamper sustainable development in many developing countries, the UN Report warns the international community on how numerous armed groups and militias all around the world reap a huge profit from the illegal exploitation of natural resources and trade in wildlife. Not only is this an economic and environmental damage for developing countries, but also a threat to their security and stability.
WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING AND FOREST CRIMES
The report focuses in particular on two types of environmental crimes: wildlife trafficking and forest crimes.
As regards the former, we are referring to a business with a turnover of approximately 23 billion dollars per year, involving a variety of species ranging from insects to reptiles, from amphibians and fishes to mammals, from live specimens to dead ones, also including products derived from the same specimens. They and their products are used, especially in the North of the world, for pharmaceutical, ornamental or traditional medicine related purposes, or just to have an exotic pet that you can show off.
About forest crimes- such as illegal logging- the report points out that they account for about 100 billion dollars a year; an amount that constitutes a remarkable 30% of the total legal timber trade at the global level. Forest crimes appear to take place in four main forms: the illegal exploitation of high-value endangered wood species (including rosewood and mahogany); illegal logging of timber for sawn wood, building material and furniture; illegal logging and laundering of wood through plantation and agricultural front companies to supply pulp for the paper industry; utilization of the vastly unregulated woodfuel and charcoal trade to conceal illegal logging in and outside protected areas, conduct extensive tax evasion and fraud, and supply fuel through the informal sector.
WHO BENEFITS FROM THIS?
Poachers, including a range of militias and other non-state armed groups, are increasingly exploiting parks, biodiversity hotspots, and other vulnerable habitats. These groups raise funds through the exploitation of wildlife resources including ivory, rhinoceros horn, tiger pelts, shahtoosh (wool from the Chiru or Tibetan antelope – Pantholops hodgsonii), and timber.
Throughout Central and Southern Africa, armed groups capitalize on poaching and timber exploitation to fuel a variety of armed movements. The Sudanese Janjaweed and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) poach elephants throughout CentralAfrica and neighbouring countries. Dozens of militia groups kill elephants and hippos, harvest timber, and produce or tax charcoal to finance conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in neighbouring countries. The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) has been accused of poachingelephants and rhinos to fund their resurgent insurgency. According to the report also Al Shabaab’s primary income appears to be from their involvement in the charcoal trade and informal taxation at roadblock checkpoints and ports. Likewise in Asia, exploitation of wildlife supports a numberof non-state armed groups. Al Qaeda affiliated Bangladeshi separatists and other tribal militias in India, have been affiliated in the illegal trade in ivory, tiger pelts, and rhino horns in Southeast Asia. Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network have been accused of raising funds throughtimber exploitation and trade.
The consequences of environmental crimes involve environmental, economic and social issues, including security and stability. They rob local communities and entire nations of their natural resources and natural capital. The illegal trade in wildlife is therefore a barrier to sustainable development, involving a complex combination of weak environmental governance, unregulated trade, loopholes, and laundering systems used to conduct serious transnational crime whilst undermining government institutions and legitimate businesses.
According to the report, it is up to the United Nations and other international organizations, local governments and police forces to make change towards a greater awareness of the link between environmental crimes and the financing of armed rebel groups, in order to strengthen actions to protect the environment.
However, it is not all bad news: in 2012, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon had reached its historic low with a decrease of 78% compared to 1988. This demonstrates that the combined action of the international community, governments and police forces can really make a difference.