A groundbreaking global study by Conservation International released at the World Conservation Congress reveals that environmental crime pays and pays big. Most natural resource crimes go unpunished. Weak enforcement and paltry fines fail to deter poaching, illegal logging
, and other violations in critical biodiversity areas. For the first time, economists have calculated precise dollar figures that demonstrate the lack of risks and the huge rewards in breaking environmental laws.
In Papua Province
, for example, a shipload of illegal timber yields can be sold for roughly $92,000. The fine for unlawful logging, however, is only US $6.47 making the rewards more than 14,000 times greater than the risks in the highly unlikely event of being caught and prosecuted. The study examined enforcement of illegal logging, fishing, and wildlife trade
and results from three other are similarly alarming.
The global survey was conducted in four biodiversity hotspots
Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines by CIs Center for Conservation and Government (CCG). It presents the first quantitative evidence of how poor environmental enforcement is in nations that are wealthy in natural resources.
Even when fines are high, arrests, prosecutions, and convictions are so few that their deterrent value is worthless. "Enforcement systems in these countries work so poorly that the profits from commercial-scale illegal activity far exceed any potential penalty for breaking an environmental law," says Anita Akella, author of the study and Technical Director of CI's Enforcement Initiative. "The returns are tremendous, so it's not surprising that illegal environmental activity continues to be rampant."
Data from the remaining three sites further illustrates just how weak the laws are.
- In Brazil, illegal loggers in the Atlantic forest can make US $75 for each tree they harvest, but face a fine of only US $6.44.
- Poachers in Mexico's Maya forest net an average of US $191.57 per trip, but risk an even smaller fine of US $5.66.
- In the Philippines, illegal dynamite and cyanide fishing in the Calamianes Islands earns fishermen an average of US $70.57 per trip. The maximum penalty: nine cents.
The traditional conservation response to poor enforcement in the hotspots has been to hire and equip more park guards, and to raise fines. However, the authors conclude that this strategy in isolation has been ineffective, because it does not address the entire enforcement chain detection, arrest, prosecution, conviction and penalty in an integrated way.
Enforcement systems are only as strong as their weakest link and this study offers quantifiable evidence that many of the enforcement links are flimsy and toothless. "Improving compliance is a big challenge, says Jim Cannon, co-author of the study and Deputy Director of the CCG. Beyond stronger enforcement, we need to toughen laws and penalties and create income alternatives.