President Uhuru Kenyatta sets a huge consignment of ivory on fire.
Environmental crime now the world’s fourth largest illicit enterprise, says new report
• Environmental crimes cover not only the illegal trade in wildlife, but also forestry and fishery crimes
• Illegal exploitation of natural resources has negative consequence on potential revenues from tourism, timber, mining, gold, diamonds, fisheries and even oil and charcoal
• These natural resources could have produced revenue for development needs in health care, infrastructure, schools and sustainable business development
BY KURIAN MUSA
Environmental crime is now the world’s fourth largest illicit enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
According to a joint report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and Interpol, it is estimated that the value of the black market industry behind crimes such as ivory smuggling, illegal logging and toxic waste dumping has jumped by 26 per cent from 2014 to between US$ 91 billion and US $ 258 billion annually depriving countries of future revenues and development opportunities.
“Environmental crime has impacts beyond those posed by regular criminality. It increases the fragility of an already brittle planet,” observed Mr Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Unep Executive Director.
Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock says an enhanced law enforcement can help address this worrying trend.
“There are significant examples worldwide of cross-sectoral efforts working to crack down on environmental crime and successfully restore wildlife, forests and ecosystems. Such collaboration, sharing and joining of efforts within and across borders, whether formal or informal, is our strongest weapon in fighting environmental crime,” says Mr Stock.
Environmental crimes cover not only the illegal trade in wildlife, but also forestry and fishery crimes. It includes illegal dumping of waste including chemicals and use of ozone-depleting substances.
Destruction of natural flora and fauna, pollution, landscape degradation and radiation hazards, with negative impacts on arable land, crops and trees adds to the list.
The debate on environmental crimes also includes exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, oil, timber and marine resources.
In recent years, the joint report says, the debate has reached the global stage due to its serious and deleterious impact on the environment and ecosystems, as well as on peace, security and development.
Environmental Crimes makes simpler for Illicit Financial Outflows
Illegal exploitation of natural resources, including ITW, has negative consequence on potential revenues from tourism, timber, mining, gold, diamonds, fisheries and even oil and charcoal.
These natural resources could have produced revenue for development needs in health care, infrastructure, schools and sustainable business development.
Indeed, the illegal trade especially in natural resources like fish, timber and minerals undermine legal and sustainable businesses through unfair competition and non-payment of legitimate taxes for social benefits.
Currently, the scale of different forms of environmental crime is likely in the range of USD 91–259 billion or twice the size of global official development assistance (ODA).
This total amount of USD 91–259 billion is a loss to society because the commercial activity takes place as an illegitimate enterprise. It undermines governance, legal tax-influenced price levels, and particularly legitimate business. An unknown proportion will nonetheless be re-introduced into the legitimate economy through money laundering.
A research by Development Initiatives (DI) on foreign aid and stimulating domestic revenue mobilisation in Kenya and Uganda revealed that tax revenue makes up the largest proportion of total revenue, which is over 85 per cent for Kenya in the last three years (and over 80 per cent in Uganda). It also found that ODA to domestic revenue mobilisation in Kenya and Uganda amounted to close to US$ 21.5 million in 2014 (with more funding to Uganda than Kenya).
DI suggests in order for the country’s efforts to mobilise domestic revenue to bear more fruit, there is need to develop approaches that increase tax revenue without necessarily increasing the tax burden. However, broadening the tax base to mobilise more domestic revenue might be undermined if attention is not given to leakages including illicit financial flows.
Meanwhile, the Panama Papers showed that illicit financial flows are not only an Africa problem, and that there is a need for global collaboration to track them.
“Countries such as Kenya and Uganda should target job-creating economic growth, and shift away from growth based solely on extractive industries – oil and gas – and services that require the employment of fewer people,” says the joint report. About 10 per cent of the total amount is estimated loss of revenue to governments. The number is based on two assumptions: That the criminal activity generates an average profit of 30 per cent, and that government tax revenues could be 30 per cent of the profits, if the environmental crime activities had been legal and legitimate.
For an approximate comparison the average world total tax rate percentage of commercial profits was 40.8 in 2015 according to the World Bank. For the USD 91–259 billion range, with a profit of USD 27–78 billion, the tax income, which is loss for government revenue, would be 8–23 billion, or 8.8 per cent of the total amount, giving an average loss of government revenue of USD 9–26 billion.
The report points out an escalating species extinction due to wanton wildlife poaching and trafficking. Illegal logging and trade results into climate change___ emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The reports adds that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has resulted into fish stocks depletion, loss of revenues for local fishmongers and states. Most targeted fish species are Tuna, Toothfish and Sharks.
Criminals exploit the lack of international consensus and the divergence of approaches taken by countries. What may constitute a crime in one country, is not in another. This effectively enables criminals to go “forum shopping” and use one country to conduct poaching, and another to prepare merchandise, and export via a third transit country.
According to UNODC, corruption is the most important enabling factor behind illegal wildlife and timber trade. Identifying the optimal legal framework for preventing, combating and prosecuting environmental crimes requires careful consideration.
There are proposals, according to the UN report on environmental crime; firstly, designating any violation of wildlife or environmental laws and regulations to be designated as “serious crimes”. Another proposal is to designate illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora involving organised criminal groups” as serious crimes.
In as much as the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) defines organised criminal groups, the new report recommends a broader applicability of the convention on new and emerging forms of crime.
In 2014, the Interpol General Assembly passed a Resolution on Interpol’s response to emerging threats in Environmental Security (Resolution AG-2014-RES-03). In that resolution, instead of defining environmental crime, Interpol instead focused on “environmental security” by recognising the impact that environmental crime and violations can have on a nation’s political stability, environmental quality, its natural resources, biodiversity, economy and human life.
Interpol also recognises that criminal networks engaged in financial crime, fraud, corruption, illicit trade and human trafficking are also engaged in or facilitating environmental crime.
Experts say the approach by both Interpol and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in regarding environmental crimes more as a collective term, makes the criminalities fall under already established laws on serious crimes, including, but not limited to, serious financial and corporate crimes, forgery, fraud including tax fraud, terrorist finance. Such an approach provides prosecutors with far more powerful tools for prosecution and prevention and importantly – proportionality between offense, intent and punishment.
UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/2195 (2014), recognised that; natural resources are increasingly driving conflicts.
Three conventions control the international trade and movement of hazardous waste and dangerous chemical substances by setting procedures and standards for import and export. Both the environment and human health are exposed to hazardous waste and chemicals through the cycle these products go through from production, transport, use to disposal.
There are three interlinked conventions: the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which primarily covers wastes trade; the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants which primarily covers chemicals, including restrictions on production.
The consensus based on Montreal Protocol of 1987, which controls ozone depleting gasses (ODS), has been ratified by 197 parties, making it universal. Projects worth USD 3.2 billion have been approved by its executive committee to phase out over 450,000 tonnes of substances with ozone depletion potential including the implementation of Project Sky Hole Patching by the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office of the World Customs Organisation in the 2000s. Unep, Unido, UNDP and the World Bank are the implementing agencies of the protocol.
Unep Governing Council’s Decision 27/9 is the first internationally-negotiated document to establish the term “environmental rule of law”.
The decision emphasised the role of organised criminal groups in trafficking hazardous waste, wildlife and illegal timber. The Council recognised that environmental crime undermines sustainable development, the successful implementation of environmental goals and objectives, the rule of law, and effective governance.
The council also noted that these issues have been recognised in UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/67/1 (2012) and A/RES/67/97 (2013) which urged member states to address transnational organised crime’s impact on the environment.
United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) reaffirms the need to making illicit trafficking in protected species and forest products into a serious crime as defined by UNTOC.
World Environmental Law Congress in Rio in April 2016, where the Chief Justices, Heads of Jurisdictions, Attorneys Generals, Auditors General, Chief Prosecutors and other high-ranking representatives were gathered, agreed on a list of seven core principles to strengthen the environmental rule of law.
The congress passed recommendations not limited to linking environmental crimes to other crimes such as money laundering, and strengthening courts’ capacity as guarantors of the environmental rule of law.
You can either BECOME A SPONSOR or MAKE A CONTRIBUTION
Nelson Mandela once said: “A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
If you like our journalism support us to continue bringing you groundbreaking and agenda setting stories.