Poaching, illegal logging, toxic dumping, and other environmental crimes continue to worsen around the world. That's despite the heightened awareness among government agencies and the public about the prevalence of such crimes—and about the damage they can cause to landscapes, ecosystems, and communities.
"Transnational organized environmental crime may include illegal logging, poaching and trafficking of wildlife, illegal fisheries, mining and dumping of toxic waste," Interpol and the United Nations Environment Programme write in a recent report. "It is a rapidly rising threat to the environment, to revenues from natural resources, to state security, and to sustainable development."
The value of organized environmental crimes is variously estimated at between $70 billion and $213 billion every year.
The illegal trade in wildlife alone, with plants and animals taken from the wild and sold as pets, for food, for use in medicines, and as ornaments, could be worth as much as $23 billion every year.
The illegal trade in wildlife alone, with plants and animals taken from the wild and sold as pets, for food, for use in medicines, and as ornaments, could be worth as much as $23 billion every year. A staggering 20,000 to 25,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year in Africa—out of a population of about a half a million. The population of African forest elephants is estimated to have dropped by more than a half between 2002 and 2011 as a result. Gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers, rhinos, corals, reptiles, and birds are also affected.
It's not like governments are idly standing by while the natural fruits of their lands are plundered by criminals. More than 1,000 Tanzanian rangers have received special training in recent years. Brazil is using satellites and forging relationships with villagers to help with police investigations. But the challenges of environmental law enforcement in some countries are just overwhelming—and dangerous. It's estimated that more than 1,000 rangers are killed defending the environment every year.
So what can we do about it?
"A coherent effort to fully address the multiple dimensions of environmental crime and its implications for development is needed," the report says. "This will require both national and international stakeholders to be involved in the process, including environmental, enforcement and development sectors, as well as stakeholders involved in security and peacekeeping missions."
Here were some of the report's specific recommendations:
- Continue to acknowledge the seriousness of environmental crimes and the importance of law enforcement in environmental governance.
- Create coordinated international and national approaches to addressing environmental crimes, with the U.N. Environmental Programme liaising between national, regional, and international law enforcement agencies.
- Provide more resources to international agencies that investigate and help prosecute environmental crimes.
- Demand that nations and other donors "narrow the gap" between the amount of money they have pledged to give, and the amount they have actually given, under various agreements and treaties.
- Help developing nations train their law enforcement officials and provide them with better technology.
- Expand teams of environmental crime investigators and prosecutors.
- Help consumers understand when they are buying illegal products. Improve awareness of certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council. Identify alternatives to illegal wildlife and forest products.
- Clamp down on corruption that supports environmental crime syndicates.
- Impose stricter and broader environmental protection laws.