The real costs of illegal logging, fishing, and wildlife trade: $1 trillion–$2 trillion per year

1 November 2019

The last decade has seen an increased awareness of the crisis faced by the natural world due to illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade. Sadly, the problem is particularly acute in developing countries as under-resourced governments often lack the capacity to regulate the exploitation of their natural assets. Rather than promoting economic progress, poorly managed natural wealth can lead to bad governance, corruption or even violent conflict.


Estimates of the global value of the illicit exploitation of timber, fish and wildlife usually only take into account the illicit proceeds generated by these environmental crimes:


  • Global proceeds from wildlife crime are estimated to amount to between US$7-23 billion annually;
  • Illegal timber logging and trafficking is estimated to be worth between US$30-100 billion annually;
  • Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) is estimated at between $15.5-36.4 billion annually.


A new report by the World Bank —Illegal Logging, Fishing and Wildlife Trade: The Costs and How to Combat It— has estimated the real cost of these illicit activities at a staggering $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year. More than 90 percent of these losses are from ecosystem services that forests, wildlife and coastal resources provide, and that are not currently priced by the market, such as carbon storage, biodiversity, water filtration, and flood retention.


A selection of key messages from this report is included below.


Illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade undermine international and local commitments to sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation.


The inability of current markets to value crucial ecosystem services is a major policy dilemma facing global biodiversity conservation efforts including initiatives to combat illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade.


Governments in source countries forego an estimated $7-12 billion each year in potential fiscal revenues that aren’t collected due to illegal logging, fishing, and, in some instances, wildlife trade. This shortfall in revenues hinders economic growth in source countries and increases development risks and vulnerabilities beyond national borders.


Systematic corruption and weak governance across the public and private sectors enable illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade.


Without greater investments and coordinated action at the local, national, and global levels, the plundering of natural resources will undermine economic growth and social stability in poorer countries.


International criminal organisations exploit low-risk, high-reward opportunities to conduct the multibillion-dollar illegal trade that is comparable in economic value and global scope to human and drug trafficking.Despite important targeted efforts already underway, initiatives to combat environmental crime pale in comparison to efforts against other transnational crimes.


Strong political commitment at the highest levels of government in source, transit, and demand countries is required to combat criminal activities, scale back corruption, take on powerful special interests, and change the incentives and behaviours that drive demand and supply for illegally traded wildlife, forest products, and fisheries.


Featured photo: Adam Oswell

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