Raping the Planet PDF Print E-mail
The shaping of policy at UNODC (2002-2010)

Posted: 15 February 2014

Climate change and environmental sustainability are high priorities today. A shocking truth is that criminals are profiting from the destruction of our planet.

altIllegal logging is destroying earth's lungs. In parts of South East Asia, the problem is so acute that more than a third of all timber exports are illegally sourced. I have flown over parts of Indonesia and Thailand where you can only see wasteland where precious forests used to stand.  This billion dollar business - greased by  high-level collusion - is costing governments dearly, creating flash floods and landslides, and reducing the earth's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

To feed the drug addiction of cocaine users in Europe and North America, vast swathes of Andean forest are being slashed and burned to make way for coca plants, and streams are being polluted by toxic chemicals.

Mafias are using oceans and poor regions of the world as garbage dumps for toxic trash. The illegal disposal of garbage, radioactive and hazardous wastes, old computers and mobile phones, and ozone depleting chemicals is also a big business that is endangering public health and our eco-systems.

Blood diamonds are being used by rebel groups to finance civil wars, particularly in parts of Africa. While the profits can be great for local thugs, the price is high for the labourers forced to work in crude mines and the general population who receive nothing from their plundered resources except further instability.

Illegal fishing costs some countries a quarter of their yearly catch and has contributed to the virtual elimination of entire stocks of fish like North Atlantic cod.

The more lucrative the product, the greater the attraction for criminals. The Caspian caviar trade is largely controlled by the mafia. Around the world big money is made by poaching and chopping up endangered species for ivory and animal hides.

The value of international environmental crime - or "green crimes" - may be as much as $40 billion a year, about ten percent of the value of the international trade in narcotics.

But this figure does not tell the full story. Environmental exploitation hits developing countries the hardest. It makes them more vulnerable to poverty, fuels corruption  and generates crime. It can also change the environment in ways that trigger conflicts, for example as a result of water pollution, population displacement or deforestation. This makes it harder to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and threatens survival.

What can be done? Since environmental crimes defy borders there must be laws to match. Just as there are international laws against the trafficking of people, weapons  and drugs, it is time to take global action against the illicit trade in natural resources.

Some steps have already been taken. The Kimberly Process, launched in 2003, is a well-known attempt to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. There is a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. There is a (Montreal) Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and the Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste.

But there is no comprehensive legal framework to prevent the trafficking of timber from illegal logging. As a result, there are almost no domestic laws currently prohibiting this trade (although the EU  is currently negotiating agreements with timber-producing countries to exclude illegal products).

How can the existing legal framework, like the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, be applied more effectively to deal with environmental crime? Do we need a special (Fourth) Protocol? Something must be done to set clear and common international standards and create universal measures, subject to peer review, to fight environmental crime, to deter businesses and individuals involved in these trades, and strengthen the capacity of states to work across borders to catch environmental offenders.

Applying the UN Convention against Corruption can cut down on the bribes and kickbacks that enable the rape of the planet.alt

Consumers can already take action. If you can afford diamond jewellery check that it is certified "blood free" before you buy it. Is the rock on your finger really worth someone else's life or limbs? Do you really need exotic animal skin rugs or accessories? If you are buying teak furniture or hardwood floors, ask where they came from. Purchasing power can ensure that products come from a sustainable and legal source.

To stop illegal activity among extraction industries, more businesses should apply the practice of "Publish What You Pay" which is at present limited to listed oil, gas and mining companies. This would help expose any shady dealings. At the same time, host governments should "Publish What You Receive" to ensure that the numbers add up.

We must not allow criminals to rob the planet of its biodiversity and to endanger public health, deepen poverty and sow instability by plundering natural resources. Once these precious species and forests are gone, they are gone forever.

Eirik Talleraas

Photos courtesy of:

© A. Ruwindrijarto / Telapak / Environmental Investigation Agency - Illegal logging with chainsaw in the Kluet Swamp, Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, 1999.

© Mary Rice / Environmental Investigation Agency - Poached elephant in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, with its tusks still intact.



Last Updated on Sunday, 04 May 2014 17:17