By Kotie Geldenhuys
Elephants are hunted for their ivory and rhinos for their horns. Pangolins, lions and leopards are killed for the muti trade. Cycads are removed from the veld and replanted in the gardens of wealthy home owners. Trees are cut down and fish sources are exploited. All over the world environmental crime is a serious problem which, in the past, seldom got the attention it deserves.
Fortunately, environmental crime has in recent years been receiving global attention due to its serious and damaging impact on the environment and ecosystems, as well as on peace, security and development. Environmental crimes, including the illegal mining of gold, diamonds, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and trafficking in hazardous waste also undermine legal commerce and rob developing countries of an estimated $91 to $259 billion every year. Tax revenue from these activities could have been used to build schools, invest in infrastructure, provide health care and develop business (Nelleman et al, 2016).
The term “environmental crime” encompasses the illegal trade in wildlife, as well as forestry and fishery crimes, illegal dumping of waste including chemicals, the smuggling of ozone-depleting substances and illegal mining. Nelleman et al (2014) state that transnational organised environmental crime involves primarily five key areas:
Illegal logging and deforestation: these activities have an estimated worth of between $30 and $100 billion annually, or 10 to 30% of the total global timber trade. An estimated 50 to 90% of the timber in some individual tropical countries is suspected to come from illegal sources or has been logged illegally (www.unep.org/newscentre/illegal-trade-wildlife-and-timber-products-finances-criminal-and-militia-groups-threatening-security).
- Illegal fisheries: the haul from illegal fishing is estimated to be worth more than $23 billion annually (Hill, 2016).
- Illegal mining and trade in minerals, including conflict diamonds.
- Illegal dumping of and trade in hazardous and toxic waste.
- Illegal trade in and poaching of wildlife and plants which is estimated to be worth between $70 and $213 billion a year (www.poachingfacts.com).
Environmental crime has a negative impact on ecosystems and the environment as a whole. Illegal mining, for example, is not limited to the illegal extraction of resources; it also has a severe environmental impact, whether from mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining (Nelleman et al, 2016) or the destruction of natural flora and fauna and the changing of landscapes due to illegal mining.