The Rise of Environmental Crime - A UNEP – INTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment: A growing threat to Natural ressources, Peace, development and security



Please download the Document application/pdf environmental_crimes.pdf (10.9 MiB)




The environment provides the very foundation of sustainable development, our health, food security and our economies. Ecosystems provide clean water supply, clean air and secure food and ultimately both physical and mental wellbeing.



Natural resources also provide livelihoods, jobs and revenues to governments that can be used for education, health care, development and sustainable business models. The role of the environment is recognized across the internationally agreed seventeen sustainable development goals adopted in 2015.



However, the environment as the very foundation of sustainable development, peace and security is now at risk. Environmental crime is vastly expanding and increasingly endangering not only wildlife populations but entire ecosystems, sustainable livelihoods and revenue streams to governments. By some estimates, possibly more than a quarter of the world’s elephant population has been lost in a decade. However, environmental crimes are no longer restricted to iconic wildlife and rare wood species alone – they have become part and  parcel of the larger global network of transnational organized environmental crimes. Environmental crime also include corporate crime in the forestry sector, illegal exploitation and sale of gold and minerals, illegal fisheries/fishing, trafficking in hazardous waste and chemicals and threat finance using wealth generated illegally from natural resources to support non-state armed groups and terrorism.



Although the definition of “environmental crime” is not universally agreed, it is often understood as a collective term to describe illegal activities harming the environment and aimed at benefitting individuals or groups or companies from the exploitation of, damage to, trade or theft of natural resources, including serious crimes and transnational organized crime.



Indeed, the value of the illegal wildlife trade is now dwarfed by the larger crimes against the environment


  • The illegal wildlife trade is by some estimated at 7–23 billion USD per year
  • Environmental crime is now estimated to be ca. 91–258 billion USD (2016) annually, a 26% increase from previous estimate in 2014.
  • Environmental crimes is rising by 5-7% annually – 2–3 times the rate of the global economy
  • Losses of government revenues through lost tax income due to criminal exploitation account for at least 9–26 billion USD annually.
  • Forestry crimes including corporate crimes and illegal logging account for an estimated 51–152 billion USD;
  • Illegal fisheries an estimated 11–24 billion USD,
  • Illegal mining estimated at 12–48 billion USD;
  • Waste at 10–12 billion USD.



The wide uncertainty range reflects the lack of criminal statistics in this field, but is based on best sources and criminal intelligence from INTERPOL. The value makes environmental crimes the fourth largest crime in the world after drug trafficking (344 billion USD), counterfeit crimes (288 billion USD) and human trafficking (157 billion USD), by some estimates.



Unlike any other known crime, environmental crimes are aggravated through their additional cost and impact on the environment and cost to future generations. Deforestation, dumping of chemicals and illegal fisheries causes loss of ecosystem services such as clean air and clean water, extreme weather mitigation, food security and even health and wellbeing. They also deprive governments of much-needed revenues and undermine legal businesses.



The Document is available at  the Rise of environemental Crime: A UNEP – INTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment: A growing threat to Natural ressources, Peace, development and security



Authors:  Nellemann, C. (Editor in Chief); Henriksen, R., Kreilhuber, A., Stewart, D., Kotsovou, M., Raxter, P., Mrema, E., and Barrat, S. (Eds). 2016. The Rise of Environ mental Crime – A Growing Threat To Natural Resources Peace, Development And Security. A NEPINTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme and RHIPTO Rapid Response–Norwegian Center for Global Analyses,


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