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Interpol highlights crimes against the environment ahead of COP21

Photo by International Forum on Technology and Security (FITS)

Crimes against the environment – such as illegal deforestation, wildlife trafficking and toxic waste dumping – now bring in as much as $213 billion a year, but Interpol officials say the problem is not getting enough attention.


International experts gathered in the French city of Nimes for three days of discussions on environmental crimes this week ahead of the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris (November 30 to December 11).

Delegates highlighted a startling figure: After drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking, crimes against the environment have now become the fourth-largest money-maker for organised crime, generating between $70 billion and $213 billion per year, according to estimates.

The issue is nevertheless barely on the agenda of the key United Nations climate talks in Paris, also known as the COP 21.

The relative lack of interest in environmental crimes is a source of worry for Cees Van Duijn, Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme project leader, who jointly organised the Nimes conference with the France-based International Forum on Technology and Security (FITS).

He spoke to FRANCE 24 on the sidelines of the meeting about his concerns.

FRANCE 24: Why are environmental crimes largely missing from the COP 21 agenda?

Cees Van Duijn: I regret that this issue is being overlooked at the international climate conference. We need stronger political support in order to address these types of crimes, but to get that political support we need people who have firsthand knowledge of the problem to be invited to speak at major meetings.

The consequences of drug trafficking are immediately visible, but this is not the case with environmental crime, which can seem an abstract phenomenon – so it is hard to it make it a priority. Yet we are all victims of crimes committed against the environment, even if they occur on the other side of the planet.

FRANCE 24: Are environmental crimes increasing?

Van Duijn: It's difficult to say, because it remains a relatively recent field of investigation and we have few references for comparison. But it is undoubtedly gaining ground.

In any case, it is a sector that is destined to grow. Most resources – like timber, rare wildlife or fossil fuels – are becoming scarcer. They represent lucrative opportunities for criminal organisations.

FRANCE 24: Can we say this represents a new territory for the mafia?

Van Duijn: The mafia, in the traditional sense, is in fact active in this field. We have seen this already in waste trafficking cases in Italy. However, the groups that are most active in the field of environmental crime are far less structured than the mafia. There is no group of bosses giving orders down the line. These are much more flexible organisations, which makes them all the more elusive.

FRANCE 24: Some people have evoked links between environmental crime and terrorism. What can you tell us about this?

Van Duijn: We do not have conclusive evidence of widespread cooperation but there are, indeed, increasing reports of links between environmental crimes and terrorist networks. Our own investigations have only centred on rebel groups, mostly in Africa, who engage in ivory trafficking or illegal fishing. We are also exploring whether these environmental crimes help fund terrorist movements.

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