Fighting Transnational Environmental Crime

Article excerpt

Transnational environmental crime (TEC) is often not taken seriously within the broader policy and enforcement community. It is one of the fastest growing areas of cross-border criminal enterprise involving high profits and low risk for those involved in timber trafficking, wildlife smuggling, the black market in ozone-depleting substances, and the illegal trade in hazardous and toxic waste. TEC is increasingly characterized by commodity-specific smuggling networks, the intrusion of criminal groups involved in other forms of illegal trade and, in some cases, politically motivated organizations for whom this generates income to support other activities. But unlike other forms of transnational crime, there is no international treaty to prevent, suppress, and punish the kinds of trafficking and smuggling that constitute transnational environmental crime. The global regulatory and enforcement community has therefore developed innovative collaborative mechanisms to meet both the criminal and environmental challenges associated with this increasingly serious form of cross-border crime. Despite their successes, their efforts remain underresourced. This article examines the challenges of TEC and efforts to respond to those challenges in the face of uncertain resources and limited awareness.

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At the 11th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in April 2005, speakers identified wildlife smuggling and timber trafficking as an area of evolving organized criminal activity deserving of international attention? Within five years, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) included a chapter on the illegal trade in environmental resources in its 2010 Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment, as well the more familiar Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) challenges of drugs, arms, and people smuggling? In March 2012, INTERPOL convened its first ever meeting of International Chiefs of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. Delegates at the meeting confirmed their concerns about "the scale of environmental crime and the connection with organized transnational crime, including ... issues of smuggling, corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, and murder." (3) Two months later, in May 2012, the U. S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held hearings on the national and global security implications of elephant poaching in Africa. Committee Chairman John Kerry reminded those present that elephant poaching is a "multi-million dollar criminal enterprise ... interwoven [with] some of Central and East Africa's most brutal conflicts." (4)

Something is clearly going on. Transnational environmental crime is reputed to be one of the fastest growing areas of criminal activity globally, worth billions of dollars in profit to criminal groups around the world. Estimates range from $31 billion to $40 billion a year or more. (5) Data from just a small selection of recent seizures and enforcement activity confirms the size and global reach of the illegal environmental trade. In November and December 2011, authorities in Guatemala uncovered three shipping containers ready for export, containing a total of almost 180 cubic meters of rosewood. (6) Between July 2010 and August 2012, customs and enforcement personnel working across Europe and Central Asia intercepted more than 3,000 refrigerant cylinders containing over 60 metric tons of illegally traded ozone-depleting substances (ODS). (7) In the first months of 2012, enforcement officers in Colombia rescued more than 46,000 animals, birds, and reptiles destined for the illegal international market. (8) In June 2012, customs officials in Sri Lanka seized 1.5 tons of ivory in the port of Colombo. The 359 tusks, which were determined to have come from Uganda, had been shipped out of Africa through Kenya and were en route to buyers in Dubai. (9) INTERPOL's Operation Cage, conducted across thirty-two countries in July 2012, resulted in the seizure of more than 8,700 birds and animals, including reptiles, mammals and insects, and the arrest of nearly 4,000 people. …