The past few decades, we have not only witnessed a rise in environmental crime, but also its convergence with other forms of organised crime like the trafficking of humans, drugs and firearms. These facts set the starting point of a panel discussion held during the 31st session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). The event was organised by the Wildlife Justice Commission – with the support of Belgium – and the UNODC Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment and Climate.
Introducing the event, moderator and Executive Director of the Wildlife Justice Commission Olivia Swaak-Goldman noted that environmental crime has become the fourth largest crime sector worldwide, “with far-reaching environmental, social, security and health consequences.” Ambassador Ghislain D’Hoop from Belgium reiterated the gravity of the situation surrounding environmental crime, and emphasised the importance of targeted action and international cooperation.
Crime convergence: from crystal meth to pangolin
Even more concerning, though, is the trend of environmental crime’s convergence with other types of organised crime, as was illustrated by various experts on the topic. Steve Carmody, Director of Programs at the Wildlife Justice Commission recounted a situation on the convergence of wildlife and drug trafficking during an undercover operation in Nigeria: “These guys were openly discussing the supply of cocaine and crystal meth and pangolin during the same meetings.”
Zhiquiang Tao, Programme Officer at UNODC Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment and Climate, highlighted other examples of convergence. In Southeast Asia smuggler networks facilitate the trafficking of illicit drugs, wildlife, and timber. “One thing that is clear is the involvement of transnational organised criminal groups”, Tao explained. “They are working across different sectors with different commodities, so long as they are profitable.”
Edgardo Buscaglia, Senior Research Scholar in Law and Economics at Columbia University, and member of the Independent Review Panel of the Wildlife Justice Commission, described the increase in crime convergence over the last 20 years. Based on court cases analysis, a 745 percent increase was observed in crime convergence within the Mexican Sinaloa cartel since 2000, for example. This includes wildlife crimes, illegal fisheries and other types of environmental trafficking.
‘It takes a network to defeat a network’
All three experts hammered the need for coordinated action to effectively target these networks. To tackle crime convergence, there needs to be timelier sharing of intelligence and evidence, both nationally and internationally, according to Steve Carmody. “It takes a network to defeat a network. At the moment, we’re not networking enough.”
Edgardo Buscaglia presented three policy recommendations to address this type of convergence: ensuring that judicial authorities approach organised crime networks in a more comprehensive manner focusing not only on drug trafficking; having judicial authorities indict all types of crimes committed by the same networks for more institutional efficiency; and judicially approaching crime convergence at a national and international level.
This event made clear that there is much work to be done regarding combatting environmental crime convergence. What is also clear is that the only way to dismantle transnational criminal networks is by building partnerships between countries, law enforcement agencies, judicial systems, and other stakeholders.