The illegal international trade in environmentally sensitive
items such as ozone depleting substances, toxic chemicals,
hazardous waste and endangered species is a serious problem
with global impact.
This scourge which affects all countries threatens human
health, deteriorates the environment and results in revenue
loss for governments in some cases.
In fact, the illegal trade in wildlife can be as profitable
as dealing in narcotics. Shawls made from the wool of Tibetan
antelope - the sale of which is completely illegal - are sold
for up to €20,000 Euros, while caviar from endangered
sturgeon approaches €8,000 per kilo on the retail market.
Added to this is the alarming rise in virulent wildlife diseases,
such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and avian
influenza that cross species lines to infect humans and endanger
Ozone depleting substances (ODS), such as those used in refrigeration
and air conditioning systems, not only destroy the earth's
protective shield (the stratospheric ozone layer), but, if
released into the atmosphere, also contribute to climate change
since they are also powerful greenhouse gases. Illegal trade
in ODS has become a global phenomenon.
Toxic waste also causes long-term poisoning of soil and water,
affecting people's health and living conditions, sometimes
irreversibly. Unscrupulous waste trade has become a serious
concern since the 1980s and has now become a criminal offence
under the Basel Convention on the 'Control of Trans-boundary
Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal'. The
waste may pass through several countries before reaching its
final destination, making it more difficult to pinpoint responsibilities.
UNEP estimated that some 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste
is generated worldwide annually and this is steadily growing
each year. 70% of this waste is dumped in developing countries
in Asia and Africa.
Violations of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also
continue to worry environmentalists as more and more fauna
and flora face pressures that could lead to their extinction
- a real loss to mankind's animal and floral kingdoms.
Customs administrations have, in the last few years, reported
more than 9800 CITES and 220 hazardous waste seizures, but
this is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition, increasing
evidence has shown that organised crime groups are involved
in this dirty business. The international community is now
mobilised more than ever to fight against this unscrupulous
During a high level meeting at WCO headquarters recently
on enforcement issues, delegates representing the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), Customs administrations, other
international organisations and stakeholders who have an interest
in the environment, called for an urgent and concerted global
response to tackle ever-increasing environment crime. Participants
agreed on an Action Plan to fight against environment crime.
The Plan foresees the promotion of environment crime as one
of the priorities for Customs administrations, the training
of Customs officers to improve their detection techniques
given their frontline position at borders, the creation of
specialised units at Customs offices to deal with this form
of crime and enhancing internatinal co-operation and information
In this regard, the WCO will use its global communication
tool, the Customs Enforcement Network (CEN), for realtime
information exchange. The CEN will enable Customs officers
worldwide to be alerted quickly and facilitate their immediate
response to any illegal trafficking of environmentally sensitive
To ensure effective international co-operation against environment
crime, the WCO and UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding
in 2003 and are also partners in the Green
Customs Initiative - dedicated to training and building
the capacity of Customs officials across the globe.
Both organisations are committed to strengthening and enhancing
their partnership, which is aimed at protecting the environment
through more effective enforcement of environment crime.