The United States, Norway, and Gabon, as well as several environmental organizations launched the Nature Crime Alliance, a new multi-sector approach to combat environmental crimes and criminal networks. The Alliance, which brings together governments, international organizations, and civil society, was launched on August 23 in Vancouver, Canada.
“Many of these problems are transnational in nature, which requires an equally organized and global response,” Mauricio Álvarez, professor at the University of Costa Rica and president of the Federation of Environmental Organizations, told Diálogo on October 3. “Not only are crimes against the environment increasing, but we are also facing complex criminal organizations that employ advanced technology, sophisticated equipment, and considerable resources to evade authorities.”
In a statement, the Alliance emphasized that environmental crime is one of the largest illegal economies globally, wreaking havoc on both people and the planet. Eradicating these crimes requires more effective multi-sector cooperation and improved coordination between the various actors involved in this fight, it said.
The partnership aims to address a wide range of environmental crimes including illegal logging and mining, wildlife trafficking, illegal land conversion, illegal fishing, and related activities. To achieve this, the Alliance will focus on generating political will, mobilizing funds, and strengthening the operational capabilities needed to combat these environmental crimes.
It will also implement a variety of strategies, including cross-sectoral working groups and structured communication channels that allow for open dialogue and the exchange of best practices. As such, the Alliance seeks to forge an international response to address crimes against nature, the statement said.
According to Interpol, environmental crimes are the third most lucrative criminal activity worldwide, second only to drug trafficking and product counterfeiting, and ahead of human trafficking.
Criminal groups share routes and methods with criminal networks involved in human arms, and drug trafficking to transport the products derived from their illegal activities, Interpol indicated in a statement.
This involves the use of false passports, corruption, money laundering, and murder, Interpol said. The fight against illicit financial flows is therefore key to eradicating corruption.
The newly created Alliance involves the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Interpol Global Wildlife Crime Initiative, and the Wildlife Justice Commission.
To date, the Alliance has 22 member countries and this number is expected to increase significantly as it officially begins operations in the coming months. “It is important that Latin American countries join this effort,” Álvarez said.
Álvarez pointed out that there is an unmistakable flow of illicit resources and profits flowing from the south to the north and China stands out as a significant destination in this problem. In particular, much of the timber harvested in Costa Rica is smuggled to China.
“According to authorities, they identified a Chinese mafia dedicated to the illegal export of these valuable Costa Rican woods to the Chinese market. This situation is in addition to other environmental crimes such as illegal fishing, illegal gold mining, and animal trafficking, which also find an attractive market in China,” Álvarez said.
Yulia Stange, director of the Alliance, stressed that members will focus on key strategic areas, such as identifying and dismantling financial flows related to environmental crime, promoting technology and strengthening the capacities of environmental defenders, Uruguay’s IPS Noticias reported.
“Criminals see these crimes as low-risk profit opportunities, often perceiving them as victimless crimes,” Stange said. The Alliance seeks to change this global perception, turning these crimes into high-risk, low-profit activities for criminals worldwide.
Álvarez pointed out the importance of the emergence of “a treaty of strong and joint sanctions” against environmental crime, especially in Latin America, a region particularly exposed to this type of crime due to its wealth of flora, fauna, and mineral resources.
Criminal groups are diversifying their sources of income away from drug, arms, and human trafficking. They are now venturing into environmental crimes, InSight Crime, an investigative journalism organization specializing in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated in a report.
A telling example of this trend is the situation in Colombia, where armed groups are cutting and burning trees in protected areas to grow coca. They are also involved in gold trafficking in Venezuela, InSight Crime added.
In Mexico, the conflict between drug cartels for control of illegal logging leads to violent confrontations, the organization added. The Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala suffers from logging and burning to create airstrips for drug traffickers.
“It is time to take global action to put an end to criminal exploitation and degradation of nature,” said Ghada Waly, executive director of UNODC, at the launch of the Alliance.
“Yes, it is imperative to address these challenges in a coordinated and joint manner, while enacting policies that promote alternative solutions to protect the environment and our planet,” Álvarez concluded.