illegal logging
Illegal logging and forest crime have an estimated worth of US$30 to US$100 billion annually. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Global environmental crime, worth up to US$213 billion each year, is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol.

Environmental crime - which includes logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, illegal fisheries, illegal mining and dumping of toxic waste - compares to global Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) of around US$135 billion!

These are the combined estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UNEP and Interpol.

"Transnational criminal organizations are making immense profits by exploiting our natural resources to fuel their illicit activities, threatening the stability and future development of some of the world's poorest regions," said Interpol's executive director of Police Services, Jean-Michel Louboutin.

One terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between US$38 and US$56 million per year from the illegal trade in charcoal, says the report. This is their largest source of cash. Militia and terrorist groups in and around African nations may earn US$111 to US$289 million annually from illegal or unregulated charcoal trade.

Other groups that benefit from the illegal trade in wildlife and timber products earn between US$4 and US$12.2 million each year from elephant ivory in the Central Africa sub-region, driving a significant reduction in elephant populations across Africa, the report says.

Illegal logging and forest crime has an estimated worth of US$30 to US$100 billion annually, or 10 to 30% of the total global timber trade. An estimated 50 to 90% of the wood in some individual tropical countries is suspected to come from illegal sources or has been logged illegally.

The report comes out with 12 specific recommendations:
• Acknowledge the multiple dimensions of environmental crime and help support sharing of information.
• Implement a coordinated UN and national approach to environmental crime by coordinating efforts on environmental legislation and regulations, poverty alleviation and development support.
• Support UNEP as the global environmental authority to address the serious and rising environmental impacts of environmental crime.
• Encourage the donor community to recognise environmental crime as a serious threat and to support national, regional and global efforts for enforcement of targeted measures to curb the illegal trade.
• Strengthen environmental legislation, compliance and awareness and call upon enforcement agencies and countries to reduce the role of the illicit trade in threat financing to armed groups and terrorism.
• Identify end-user markets and implement consumer awareness campaigns.
• Strengthen institutional, legal and regulatory systems to further combat corruption and ensure that the legal trade is monitored and managed effectively.

Environmental crime can be fought as Brazil and east Africa have shown. It begins with consumer awareness on the products we buy and use.


• The number of elephants killed in Africa annually is in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 elephants per year out of a population of 420,000 to 650,000. For the forest elephant, the population declined by an estimated 62% between 2002 and 2011.

• 94% of rhino poaching takes place in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which have the largest remaining populations. Here, the poaching rose from less than 50 in 2007 to over 1,000 in 2013. Rhino horn poached last year is valued at around US$63 to US$192 million.

• From 2005 to 2011, a minimum of 643 chimpanzees, 48 bonobos, 98 gorillas and 1,019 orangutans are estimated to have been lost from the wild through illegal activities.