Environmental Crime: Defining the Challenge as a Global Security Issue and Setting the Stage for Integrated Collaborative Solutions
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Context

Environmental crimes today no longer pose only a conservation and biodiversity challenge. Poaching, wildlife trafficking and the illicit logging, fishing, charcoal, mining and waste trades threaten international security, economic growth and development. In fact, it is estimated that transnational environmental crime is worth somewhere between $70-213 billion per year. Only the global drug trade and counterfeiting in, for example, pharmaceuticals, electronics or cigarettes are larger illicit economies.

The environmental crime challenge is not only vast by numbers; environmental criminals are also highly integrated into other sophisticated transnational organized criminal groups most often associated with the illicit trade in drugs, arms, humans, and counterfeit goods. Nearly every terrorist group active today is engaged in and profiting from environmental crime - including ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, the Lord's Resistance Army and more.

To counter the rising challenge of environmental crime, conservation, development and security communities must work together to design and implement cohesive, innovative strategies, while engaging in persistent efforts to coordinate government responses and leverage the private sector.

This forum represents the Partnerships in Security and Development program's (PSD) efforts on combatting environmental crime. Here you will find snapshots of the conservation and biodiversity, development, and security implications of environmental crimes.

PSD staff have published extensively on this issue in the New York Times, the Washington Post and peer-reviewed journals, and in 2014 we were invited to launch a Commitment to Action with the Clinton Global Initiative. Last year, we were invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative's Winter 2015 meeting featuring President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on our work in this field. Check in on our ongoing field project in Kenya and we welcome your input and partnership in building more holistic and sustainable solutions to environmental crime challenges.

In Washington, we have participated in the process of moving legislation forward on this issue and were pleased to see Congressional action throughout 2015.

We worked closely with other organizations and have partnered with National Geographic on our work focused on illegal fishing and safeguarding marine protected areas.

 

 

Scope

An estimated $10-23.5 billion worth of fish are illegally harvested each year, representing 20 percent of the legal fishing trade and equivalent to 26 million tons every year. Currently, over 90 percent of the world's fisheries are over fished or fully exploited. Catches of Bluefin tuna are estimated to be 5-10 times higher than what is officially reported. One study found that 40 percent of the total fish catches off of the coast of West Africa are illegally harvested. These trends are likely to increase as consumer fish demand - already double its level fifty years ago - is expected to continue rising. Abalone, a large sea snail, is worth an estimated $143 per kilogram on the black market. One bladder from the near-extinct totoaba fish can fetch as much as $10,000.

 

 

Connection to Economic Development

Developing countries constitute 80 percent of the world's total fish exports and are dramatically affected by this illicit trade. In Africa alone, approximately 10 million people earn their income from fishing. The current dramatic reduction of fish in the world's oceans means significant risks for economic calamity in these countries and prospectively millions of jobs lost in vulnerable economies. The economic loss caused by illegal fishing is estimated at $9 to $15 billion annually for developing countries, $1 billion of which is from African countries alone. Already vulnerable countries have been hit hardest. Somalia, for example, does not have the rule of law or governance structures to adequately monitor its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which stretches for two hundred nautical miles off of its coast. As a result, foreign ships illegally loot Somali fisheries, costing the already failing state $150 million to $450 million every year.

 

 

Connection to Security

Illegal fishing has been frequently linked with organized crime and other nefarious activities. Asian crime syndicates have been closely linked to the illicit trade in abalone off the coast of South Africa where they trade precursor drugs for abalone, directly interweaving the illegal fish and drug trades. The US State Department has found connections between drug trafficking and IUU fishing in the Bahamas, while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) flagged the use of fishing vessels for cocaine transport in West Africa. The crime-terror nexus with illegal fishing is further illustrated by the fact that fishing vessels that are known to often carry cannabis between Morocco and Europe - a trade that partly paid for the 2004 al-Qaeda terrorist bombings in Spain.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the International Labour Organization and the UN have found an extremely high rate of labor trafficking within the global fishing industry, with many fishers falling prey to human traffickers. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that 4 percent of all children from Laos are trafficked into the fishing industry.

 

 

Scope

The illicit trade in wood-based products worldwide is valued at an estimated $30-100 billion every year. As much as 30 percent of the global timber trade is illegal, and in key timber producing countries in Southeast Asia, Central Africa, and the Amazon Basin this number jumps to 50 to 90 percent. An astounding 80 percent of Peru's logging exports were estimated to have been harvested illegally while roughly $3.5 billion worth of illegally logged timber was exported from Southeast Asia in 2010. The illicit timber trade threatens protected forests and animal habitats worldwide. Illegal logging has been documented in 37 of Indonesia's 41 protected areas, including a UNESCO World Heritage site and an endangered orangutan habitat.

 

 

Connection to Economic Development

The impact of illicit timber on economic development and rule of law in developing nations-particularly key producer states such as Indonesia and Peru-is crippling. In 2011, the Peruvian government stated that illegal logging had resulted in annual losses of at least $250 million from the country's coffers, which is more than one and a half times the total value of the country's timber exports. In May 2013, a former Indonesian police officer was arrested for running an illegal timber operation valued at $150 million. Additionally, by providing timber at cheaper prices than legal producers, the illicit logging industry depresses worldwide timber prices between 7 and 16 percent, undercutting legal loggers and making it even more difficult for them to compete on the global market. It is estimated that the world market loses an annual $10 billion to illegal logging, while governments lose an annual $5 billion in revenue.

 

Connection to Security

The illicit timber industry, which includes the illegal production and taxation of charcoal, has proven linkages with a host of international security threats including terrorist organizations, illicit drug and arms trafficking and human rights violations. Somali-based terrorist organization al-Shabaab had by 2014 collectively earned $38 billion to $56 billion in revenue from the illegal charcoal industry in Somalia, making charcoal the primary source of revenue funding the group's operations and attacks. Militias in the DRC make $14 million to $50 million per year in illegally taxing charcoal and there are strong suspicions that the Nigerian radical Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram obtains funding from the trade. According to the UN, timber exporters have been key participants in transporting arms in West and Central Africa, which in turn drives the illegal arms trade, crime and armed conflict. Peruvian law enforcement has discovered kilograms of cocaine in seized illicit timber shipments.

The World Bank estimates that local laborers earn less than 10 percent of the value of illegally harvested timber, with the rest of the profits going into the hands of the illegal operators and organized crime groups. Furthermore, civil society groups report forced labor and exploitation of indigenous communities by illegal loggers and on connections between illegal timber and sexual exploitation, money laundering, and fraud. The illicit timber trade has financed violent regimes such as that of Charles Taylor in Liberia and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as well as fueled violent armed conflicts in Burma, Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

 

Scope

The illicit mineral industry is responsible for annual resource losses valued at $12-48 billion worldwide. The value for coltan, a component for microchips in smartphones, has jumped from $30 per pound to over $300 in recent years, with an industry value of $2 billion a year worldwide. In East, Central and West Africa, annual profits from illicit minerals were estimated at $2.4-9 billion, as compared to the combined annual value of cocaine and heroin, $2.65 billion. In the last decade, increasing gold prices in Peru have fueled the country's illegal gold industry, valued at $3 billion and amounting to 20 percent of total gold exports, to the point of surpassing the value of cocaine trafficking. This is no small feat given that Peru is currently the world's largest cocaine producer. An entire 40-60 percent of Colombia's gold exports in 2011 are estimated to have come from unlicensed mines.

 

 

Connection to Economic Development

Developing countries are often dangerously reliant on their raw mineral industries and are more vulnerable to illicit activity in this sector. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a prime example of this. The DRC holds 80 percent of the world's reserves of coltan-a material used in microchips-and accounts for 51 percent of world coltan production. Yet the country's losses from illicit mining production and underpricing reduced overall profits by 35 percent and accounted for at least $1.36 billion in lost profit from 2010 to 2012. These losses are equal to twice the country's investment in health and education programs. South Africa estimates that it loses approximately $2.5 billion to illicit gold mining and resulting lost tax and export revenue every year. Recent mineral bans instated by the international community to target terrorist organizations that gain profits from the illicit mineral industry often end up crippling local economies.

 

Connection to Security

As some of the aforementioned minerals fetch nineteen times the price of cocaine, the illicit mineral resource sector has attracted involvement from some of the world's most unscrupulous actors and is proven to fuel violent conflict and terrorist organizations, perhaps best evidenced by the dominations "blood diamonds" or "conflict minerals." Illicit mineral extraction and sales have propped up terrorist groups such as the FDLR rebel group in Rwanda, who sourced up to 75 percent of its profits from the illegal gold industry in 2008, and the FARC in Colombia. In Colombia, local police report collusion between the criminal syndicates operating illegal coltan mines and the infamous Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, while militias operating in eastern DRC earned an estimated $1 billion from illegal mining in 2013, making this the primary source of terrorism financing in the region.

Perhaps the most notorious mineral trafficking taking place today is that which funds the Islamic State terrorist network. According to a UN Security Council sanctions committee report late last year, illicit oil sales were the Islamic State's largest revenue source, collecting as much as a million dollars a day. In Afghanistan, the Taliban earns a minimum of $17 million per year from its own illegal mining, primarily of lapis lazuli and ruby.

The illicit mineral industry has perpetuated or directly funded a myriad of humanitarian and human rights violations including the use of child soldiers in violent conflict, forced labor, and sexual and gender-based violence, and is implicated in the deaths of over 3.7 million people.

 

 

Scope

The illegal wildlife trade has skyrocketed in recent years and currently generates between $7-23 billion a year - more than the illicit trafficking of small arms, diamonds, gold or oil. In recent years, over 140,000 elephants and more than 3,600 rhinos have been slaughtered by poachers. The illegal wildlife trade is driven by an increase in demand, primarily in China and Southeast Asia where rhino horn is inaccurately perceived to hold medicinal properties. A rhino horn is worth more than $65,000 per kilogram on the black market - more than gold or platinum.

 

 

Connection to Economic Development

Overall, poaching directly hinders long-term economic growth and development in the countries struggling to protect these endangered animals, particularly through its impact on tourism. Approximately ten percent of South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) and about fifteen percent of Kenya's GDP comes from tourism. In Africa alone, tourism is vital to many economies as some estimates show total revenue from this sector surpassing $170 billion annually, and that the tourism industry directly and indirectly employs close to 20 million people. The development implications of poaching are particularly stark for countries reliant on the critical sector of wildlife tourism, an industry notable for having 19 percent of revenues considered pro-poor, meaning that they make their way directly into the hands of those most in need. In this light, depleting a state's natural treasures - such as the continent's wildlife - will have a dramatic impact on economic growth and development.

 

 

Connection to Security

The United Nations, national governments and independent NGO analyses have drawn direct and indirect links between poaching and transnational organized crime and terrorist organizations. Ivory poaching operations are described as methodic and militarized, as evidenced by the over one thousand park rangers who have been killed while defending animals from poachers. A sophisticated network of Asian-based criminal syndicates are suspected to control the ivory trade in Africa and are described as "highly adaptive to law enforcement interventions". Furthermore, the individuals who partake in ivory poaching are utilizing the same methods and networks as other illicit goods. Accounts exist of drugs being sewn into animal hides and of the direct exchange of drugs for wildlife parts. Europol discovered that many high-level drug traffickers in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico play significant roles in the illegal wildlife trade, with drug and wildlife traffickers smuggling along similar routes and acting in concert with one another.

Finally, there are direct linkages between wildlife trafficking and terrorist groups, including the Sudanese Janjaweed, militias in the DRC and the Central African Republic, and convicted war criminal Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). There are emerging reports on the potential involvement of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and al-Shabaab as well. According to estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme, annual income to militias in all of Sub-Saharan Africa from ivory sales is approximately $4 million to $12 million.

 

 

 

Managing the growing and multi-faceted environmental crime challenge requires a balanced, integrated and inclusive approach. The international community must look across traditional conservation, development and security stovepipes and establish innovative partnerships between public and private sector actors.

 

 

In partnership with local public sector stakeholders and NGOs, the Stimson Center has initiated a pilot project focused on wildlife crime at the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya. The two-year project aims to design and deploy a technology and training solution that secures the sanctuary from poachers. The model is scalable and replicable throughout the law enforcement community, including applications for police, border security agencies and critical infrastructure protection.

 

 

The project was invited to join the Clinton Global Initiative in 2014 and has released a joint Commitment to Action with them. Please click here to learn more about Project Ngulia, or follow @projectngulia for updates.

We are also working with security, development and conservation communities to advise these groups on how they can together leverage one another's strengths. Please see a January 2014 event hosted by the Stimson Center in partnership with the UK Embassy in Washington, DC, ahead of the London summit on illegal wildlife trade. We are also actively working with members of US Congress to pass legislation encouraging private public partnerships to combat environmental crime. Please see a March 2015 event hosted by the Stimson Center in partnership with National Geographic which featured keynote speaker Senator Chris Coons and an expert panel.

Over the past few years we have written extensively on this topic and many times together with local partners and other thought-leaders in regions of interest and from other functional areas:

A Very Real Problem (The Cipher Brief, November 2015)
Green Terror: Environmental Crime and Illicit Financing (SAIS Journal of International Affairs, Volume 35, Number 1, Winter-Spring 2015)
Fishing for War: How to Avoid a War with China Over Seafood - and Take a Bite in World Poverty (Politico, April 2015)
Five Myths About Illegal Wildlife Trafficking (Washington Post, April 2015)
Smart Security Through Technology And Innovation (Stimson Center, March 2015)
Innovative Steps For Combating Environmental Crime (Stimson Center, February 2015)
Fishing Wars: China's Aggression Could Stoke Future Conflict (World Politics Review, February 2015)
How Illegal Fishing Threatens Development and Security (World Politics Review, January 2015)
Putting Environmental Crimes on the Defense and Security Agenda (World Politics Review, May 2014)
Break the Link Between Terrorism Funding and Poaching (The Washington Post, January 2014)
Killing Lions, Buying Bombs (The New York Times, August 2013)
Unarmed Drones Can Strengthen US And African Security (International Business Times, July 2013)
Public-Private Partnerships Essential to Combat Poaching (World Politics Review, May 2013)

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