The illegal trade of global wildlife and natural resources is worth nearly $213 billion a year and is helping fund armed conflict, according to a new report from the United Nations and Interpol. Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program, told Reuters that environmental crime is “a financing machine” for militias, extremist groups, and armed conflict.
The trade encompasses an enormous range of illicit activities, from logging (worth a staggering $100 billion annually), fishing, and mining, to trade of rare animals and plants. The report estimates that illegal poaching of fauna and flora amount to an annual loss of $7 billion to $23 billion, while illegal mineral mining and trading results in a loss between $12 billion and $48 billion.
According to The Environment Crime Crisis report:
Throughout Central and Southern Africa, armed groups capitalize on poaching and timber exploitation to fuel a variety of armed movements. The Sudanese Janjaweed and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) poach elephants throughout Central Africa and neighboring countries. Dozens of militia groups kill elephants and hippopotamuses, harvest timber, and produce or tax charcoal, all to finance conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in neighboring countries.
Likewise in Asia, exploitation of wildlife supports a number of non-state armed groups. Al Qaeda affiliated local Bangladeshi separatists and other tribal militias in India have been reported to be implicated in the illegal trade in ivory, tiger pelts, and rhino horns in Southeast Asia.”
The past few years have seen an “enormous increase” in environmental crime, and the revenue generated eclipses that of humanitarian aid to developing nations, which is worth around $135 billion. And while there have been some successes, including a curbing of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, Reuters’ reports that two reasons for the surge in environmental crime include rising income in China and other Asian nations (precipitating increased demand for status symbols like rhino horn) and the illicit charcoal trade.
The illegal charcoal trade poses a greater risk to local environments and economies than poaching and it’s a significant source of income for Somali extremist group al-Shabaab. Both al-Shabaab and militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo illegally tax shipments of charcoal, estimated to be worth around $289 million a year, reports Bloomberg.
The UN suggested that countries strengthen law enforcement, protect animals in conservation programs, and make more of an effort to coordinate their response and crackdown on environmental crimes. But with as many as 25,000 elephants getting killed every year for their tusks, and the $192 million illegal rhino horn trade, they better hurry up.