“We are facing mass extinction and entire countries are losing iconic species of wildlife (wildlife trade in Asia, elephant and rhino poaching in sub-Sahara). The scope and range of this illegal trade is growing. Now its ‘‘dossier’’ includes waste trafficking, chemicals, ozone depleting substances, seafood caught illegally, deforestation, and trade of minerals, such as gold and diamonds, coming from conflict zones.”
It is not the beginning of an apocalyptic American movie, but a document contained in the UN report “The rise of environmental crime”, published in June 2016. For the first time, this document reveals that this new crime sector has diversified its interests and has grown to the point of becoming the fourth most important criminal sector worldwide over a few decades.
Interpol and UNEP (the UN program for environmental protection) estimate that natural resources worth from 91 to 258 billion dollars (according to the considered parameters) vanish, depriving countries of future revenue and growth opportunities. That is obvious not only thanks to actual trafficking, money transfers, but also thanks to a guilty myopia of some governments and national laws that do not consider certain episodes to be unlawful. That is ‘the case of leakage of tons of chemical waste into the Amazon, or fishing of schools of Atlantic fish in the past decade.
Environmental crime has an impact that goes beyond that resulting from regular crime: the fragility of a planet that is already in crisis grows even more. Moreover, a further effect of environmental offenses is that they undermine peace. It is no coincidence that the Council for the United Nations Security has recognized that environmental crimes are a serious threat to security- It is used to feed armed groups – potentially also terrorists – supported with the incomes of this sector.
Environmental crime is expanding in Asia, Africa, the United States and in Europe. Just to give you some data, from 2014 to 2015 environmental crimes grew by 26%, and the upward trend has not stopped yet.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, illegal exploitation of timber and minerals in the east of the country has an estimated value between 722 and 862 million dollars. Another example: the recent escalation of tensions between China and Vietnam has contributed to an exponential increase in the already high illegal trade in tens of thousands of specimens of tigers, pangolins, and bears.
The report mentions Camorra and Ndrangheta among the criminal groups at the core of these billionaire affairs in Italy, but also Australia, Europe, the United States and Japan as the origin of toxic waste, which is often radioactive, destined to countries in Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.
However, the police is gearing up. There are significant examples around the world of inter-sectoral efforts to crack down on environmental crime and successfully help to restore wildlife, forests, and ecosystems. Such collaboration, sharing and joint efforts within and across borders, formal or informal, is the most powerful weapon to save the planet today.
“What kind of world do we want to pass down to those who come after us, to the children who are growing up?” (160) is the question at the heart of Praised Be, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care of our common home. The encyclical is called after St. Francis’ invocation “Praised be, my Lord”. The Saint reminds in the Canticle that the earth, our common home “is also like a sister, with whom we share our existence and like a beautiful mother who welcomes us into her arms” (1). The Earth is mistreats and sacked, but we cannot and should not lose hope: “Humanity – is the signal of hope launched by Francis – is still capable of working together and building our common home.”