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The criminal diversion of natural resources undermines security, biodiversity and social stability. Environmental crime is an increasingly rewarding activity; in the past decade it has escalated in terms of variety, volume, and value. Land grabbing, illegal logging and mining, and accessing restricted water sources all have serious consequences for human rights, economic growth, and social development. Even so-called “petty” corruption can lead to disastrous consequences for natural resource use - for example, according to a report published by the Water Integrity Network in 2016, the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company in Kenya was losing 40% of its supply to theft and leaks, while poor residents were being forced to buy water privately that was as much as 25 times more expensive. Illegal land grabbing can meanwhile lead to forced displacement and other serious consequences. Oxfam estimates an area of land equivalent in size to Portugal has been sold off to foreign investors over the past decade, with some of those deals involving land grabs. However, Oxfam has noted some positive recent commitments from the private sector, including pledges from Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle to respect the land rights of indigenous communities and eliminate land grabs from their supply chains. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted in a 2017 report that efforts by the international community to curb the illegal wildlife trade seemed to be having a positive effect - it recorded a decline in the number of rhinos poached in South Africa, and elephant poaching levels that were significantly lower than their peak in 2011. However, concerns raised in the report included a high volume of seizures of scales culled from African pangolins; while legal trade in the small mammals has virtually disappeared, the equivalent of 200,000 live pangolins were seized illegally between 1999 and 2016, and 2017 was on pace to mark a new high, according to the report (in early 2019, officials in Hong Kong recorded their biggest-ever seizure of pangolin scales, weighing in at 8.2 tonnes). The biodiversity of a number of critical ecosystems is at risk. Illegal fishing is one of the most neglected areas of environmental crime; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs the global economy as much as $23.5 billion annually, according to data cited in report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2018. Illegal trade in natural resources can also exacerbate income inequality, and fund organized crime.

Crime and the Environment


Illicit Economy