Stealing green

Formerly considered low priority issue, environmental crime is catching the attention of global authorities as its frequency and scope grows

It looked better on its original owner (Photo: Wellcome)

Lesley Price

Organised environmental crime has notably increased over the past decade largely due to the rising financial incentives, loosely enforced laws and a low-solve rate of cases.

As a result, the governments of Norway and Sweden have funded the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, a network of leading experts in the field that aims to bring together a range of participants to combat illicit trafficking and trade.

The Global Initiative recently presented a draft report documenting environmental crimes around the world that are on the rise in terms of “variety, volume and value”.

The crimes documented include illicit trade in plants and animals, illegal logging, over-fishing, mineral extraction to production, trade of ozone-depleting substances, toxic dumping, and “grey areas” such as large-scale natural resource extraction.

A mighty catch at a mighty cost
Environmental crime has proved to be lucrative business in many ways and with the value of contraband soaring, corruption is increasing at a rapid rate. Environmental crime mostly occurs in areas of low population density, national parks, remote areas or hinterlands meaning they can continue to fly under radar, inflicting untold damage to national and regional ecosystems.

In a report published by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) at least 67 percent of fish stocks are being over-fished. Authorities have made numerous attempts to curb the issue, however, it still remains a prevalent crime as a single illegal fishing trawler expedition can potentially bring in over $1 million worth of fish.

Some nations are more susceptible than others to environmental crime, particularly those rich in untapped natural resources that also lack effective policing. Mining is a particularly problematic issue as newly discovered natural resources draw swift attention from investors and with little or unclear legislation in place, illicit exploitation and trading can occur.

The report says poor communities suffer the most, as millions of people around the world rely solely on their natural environment as a source of income and are losing food supplies and jobs through unsustainable hunting, fishing and illegal deforestation.

The impact of environmental crime also extends beyond the simple destruction of natural resources and habitats but also results in revenue losses for the state and businesses, fostering corruption, and increasing insecurity.

“They affect human security in the form of conflict, rule of law and access to essentials such as safe drinking water, food sources and shelter,” the report said.

Syncing international laws
Environmental crime is generally not thought of with the same moral repugnance as other corruption thus has rarely been viewed as a significant issue. At present, the environmental agencies accountable for managing the corruption lack the capacity or jurisdiction to stop it, while law enforcement agencies fail to prioritise it.

The report is calling for more international corresponding goals and says that the legislation and penalties currently in place vary enormously between nations. “The range between what may be considered acceptable and highly illegal is vast,” it said.

The Global Initiative has said that environmental crime is a priority and the first step will be to examine the global impact of organised environmental crime on security, governance and development.

“The intention is not for a mere assessment of the problem, but a forward looking analysis of the costs and impacts in different spheres, to assess what is being done in response now, how effective it is, what is being lost and to propose policy recommendations,” it said.

It appears the bureaucratic and diplomatic delays in dealing with transnational environmental crime will take some time to be resolved, however, there are small steps that can be taken to help reduce environmental crime.

Steven Trent, director of Environmental Justice Foundation (EFJ) says a start would be for every fishing vessel to have a mandatory license number. “Transparency and traceability are some of the best and simplest tools to combat corruption,” he said.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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