The UN and Interpol have released a joint report stating that environmental crime is now the world’s fourth largest crime, leading to an increased threat to both security and natural resources.
The value of the industry has been valued at $258 billion, representing a 26 per cent increase since 2014.
Such a jump now means that the enterprise has outstripped industries such as human trafficking, counterfeiting and illegal small arms trade.
It is also claimed that the industry is also behind or heavily involved in black market activity including ivory smuggling, illegal logging and toxic waste dumping – with the latter being regarded as a ‘high profit-low risk’ crime.
In its introduction, the report states that:
The growth rate of these crimes is astonishing. The report that follows reveals for the first time that this new area of criminality has diversified and skyrocketed to become the world’s fourth largest crime sector in a few decades, growing at 2-3 times the pace of the global economy.”
The global waste sector itself was valued at $410 billion last year, and one of its many forms includes illegal trafficking in hazardous waste and chemicals by organised crime.
It has been reported that dangerous waste is often deliberately classified or mislabelled as other material in order to deceive authorities.
Much of the waste is sent from Europe, Australia, and the Americas, ending up in countries both in Africa and Asia, where port authorities lack the necessary security measures and controls – meaning that it is a low-risk and largely simple operation for organised crime:
This, in turn undermines both the reputation and competitive situation for both legal businesses and informal businesses alike, where the legal businesses have the by far highest costs due to environmental guidelines and health protection of employees and of handling and tracking toxic material.”
The crimes associated with environmental crimes include tax fraud, double counting, transfer mispricing, money laundering, internet crimes and hacking, phishing/identity theft, securities fraud, financial crimes, and fraudulently reclaimed carbon credits – which Interpol and Europol regard as “white collar” crimes.
In order to take appropriate action, the report acknowledges that in the past, much of the focus around environmental crime has centred on “iconic species” related to trade amongst endangered species.
It states that the wider range of environmental crimes, including the financing of non-state armed groups and terrorist organisations, has not yet received the system-wide response that it requires – resulting in the loss of revenues, undermining of legitimate business, and risk to development, peace and security.
Achim Steiner, director of the UN’s environmental programme (Unep), said:
The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, and fuel insecurity around the world.
“The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end.”
Steiner also said that it is far too often the case where poor communities are brought into criminal activity via the need to feed their families, something that the international community needs to “snap” via the creation of programmes designed to create jobs through conservation.