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Strategic Report: Environment, Peace and Security – A Convergence of Threats

INTERPOL and UN Environment (UN Environment, or UNEP) released a publication exploring the connections between global environmental crime and organized crime and terrorism. "Strategic Report: Environment, Peace and Security – A Convergence of Threats" finds that some non-state armed groups, terrorist groups and criminal networks fund their activities by exploiting natural resources in conflict areas. These activities, the report asserts, pose a serious threat to peace and security.

Environmental crime contributes to destroying the ecosystem, as criminals damage environmental quality, hasten biodiversity loss, and deplete natural resources. However, environmental crime also impacts our society, as it constitutes a direct threat to development, peace, and security.

  • Environmental crime globally is valued at somewhere between USD 91 billion and 259 billion,1 or up to twice the amount of global Official Development Assistance (ODA).
  • It is rising by 5-7 per cent annually and is increasingly threatening not only governments’ revenues, legitimate businesses and sustainable development, but also peace and security.

This report summarizes some of the key areas in which INTERPOL and UN Environment are developing their strategies and activities to counter environmental crime – a collective term describing any illegal activity carried out by a criminal entity to generate profits, which results in harm to our ecosystem, by damaging environmental quality, hastening biodiversity loss, and depleting natural resources.

Our ecosystem relies primarily on the conservation of environmental quality, biodiversity, and natural resources. It is therefore crucial to address crimes impacting these areas:

  • Environmental quality: crimes adversely affecting air, land, and water typically involve companies and/or organized crime groups which contribute to threatening environmental quality;
  • Biodiversity: elephants, rhinoceroses,4 bears, Asian big cats, antelopes, great apes, pangolins, turtles and tortoises are species which are endangered as a direct result of poaching and trafficking, revealing a well-established criminal supply chain;
  • Natural resources: criminal activities associated with and resulting from illegal logging, illegal fishing and illegal mining deplete the planet’s essential resources. A variety of players are implicated in these crimes, ranging from those involved in the harvesting or extraction phases, to the international sellers.

Natural resources managed sustainably can provide a platform for wealth, economic growth, as well as job and business development. They can also help provide a major source of revenue for governments to build the country, provide social services, and alleviate poverty. However, some non-state armed groups, terrorist groups and criminal networks thrive on environmental crime to fund their activities. They exploit natural resources, such as minerals including gold, coltan and diamonds, in conflict areas and fund non-state armed groups, posing a serious threat to peace and security.

  • It is estimated that at least 40 per cent of internal conflicts have a link to natural resources.
  • Non-state armed groups – including terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida, Daesh, the Taliban, and rebel groups in DRC, to mention just a few – are funded by the revenue of a number of trafficking, including in environmental commodities, such as waste, wildlife, timber, charcoal, fish, and minerals , see Resolution S/RES/2195 (2014).

Environmental crime is a growing and devastating threat destabilizing our entire ecosystem. Criminals damage environmental quality, hasten biodiversity loss, and deplete natural resources, all of which result in challenging and destructive consequences, such as climate change. Through the ECEC questionnaire, member countries clearly expressed their environmental crime priority areas, which made it possible to provide an overview of the different criminal activities. Drawing on the results of the ECEC questionnaire and the information collected by INTERPOL and UN Environment within the scope of their respective activities, this report found that environmental crime is a high-profit and low-risk activity, which has developed around a criminal supply chain for each crime area.