Blighting vulnerable nations, wildlife and forest crime has become a serious transnational threat to the security, stability and economy of entire countries and regions. The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice have voiced grave concern over the indiscriminate plunder of natural resources and national heritage.

Staggering profits are at stake: wildlife crime now ranks among trafficking in drugs, arms and humans and may earn criminals up to US $20 billion a year, while the trade in illegal timber costs the world economy between US $30 and US $100 billion a year. Corruption greases the wheels of this business, as a succession of bribes is paid at all stages of the process, from exploiting the source of a product to the marketplace. While the incentives for criminals are all too clear, the means to fight them remain woefully inadequate.

Amid the mounting carnage, several international organizations began discussions in November 2009 to tackle this scourge from a development, law enforcement and environmental perspective. In November 2010, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICC WC) was formally launched at the International Forum for Tiger Conservation in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Consortium consists of five organizations: the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO). This novel and multi-faceted approach brings together experts working in the areas of law enforcement and criminal justice capacity-building, as well in the social and economic spheres.

Until the creation of ICCWC, the destruction of the world’s flora and fauna was largely treated as a conservation issue. Despite considerable efforts expended by intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to curb wildlife and forest crime, the problem continued unabated. A factor contributing to this—the one which may hither to have been underestimated—is the involvement of organized crime groups operating through sophisticated net works. Law enforcement agencies may find themselves confronted with formidable challenges while fighting against well-resourced and well-armed foes.

These five organizations constitute a unique pool of technical and programming expertise grounded in specialized know-how.  The approach offers coordinated support to Governments of affected countries, national wildlife and forest law enforcement agencies and sub-regional networks that work to protect the world’s natural resources from criminal exploitation. The emphasis is on improving coordination and cooperation between regions and across the enforcement chain; building the long-term capacity of the national agencies responsible for law enforcement; improving public awareness and political support for combating wildlife and forest crime; and building knowledge of the scale, nature, incentives and potential responses to wildlife and forest crime.

ICCWC aims to provide national agencies responsible for wildlife and forest law enforcement with the tools and services that they need to combat environmental crime. All organizations have extensive experience in providing technical assistance, and some have national or regional offices and bureaus that already work on the ground alongside national law enforcement agencies. Each, in its own way, has engaged in extensive research into crime and effective ways of combating it. They have developed an overview of crime and smuggling that is simply unavailable elsewhere.

The organizations comprising ICCWC have a history of developing and delivering comprehensive training and capacity-building packages for law enforcement officers, at the regional and sub-regional levels. Several have communication channels that allow real-time dissemination of intelligence to help national enforcement bodies in their risk-assessment, targeting and profiling activities and to facilitate investigations in different countries. They have experience in coordinating multinational operations targeting illegal trade and smuggling.

In the mid-to longer-term, ICCWC is uniquely placed to successfully develop programmes to:

  • Enhance awareness of wildlife crime
  • Provide institutional analysis and support
  • Build capacity of national institutions, sub-regional and regional enforcement organizations, taking into consideration the whole range of investigative and prosecutorial techniques
  • Foster coordinated enforcement actions
  • Support analytic reviews, especially through the ICCWC Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit
  • Mainstream information about wildlife crime across relevant national agencies
  • Promote natural resource management and development
  • Understand and address drivers of wildlife crime and reduce demand

At the first-ever United Nations Environment Assembly held in June 2014, all 193 members of the United Nations and major stakeholders set forth a new vision of the environmental dimension of sustainable development.  Member States united to articulate a global political will to curb the destruction of nature. Figuring prominently on the Assembly’s agenda were the topics of environmental rule of law and the illegal trade in timber and wildlife.

ICCWC can play a vital role in channelling this momentum by mobilizing the experienced global actors in the right way. Recognizing that one of the most significant problems of the day requires committed global action, this Consortium is forging ahead to deliver the concrete, state-of-the-art responses necessary to averting a vast tragedy.   

Further information on ICCWC may be found at http://www.cites.org/eng/prog/ICCWC.php