For information only - not an official document

27 November 2013

Factsheet 5

Corruption and the environment

PANAMA CITY/VIENNA, 27 November (UN Information Service) - Corruption has a serious impact on the environment. Every two seconds an area of forest the size of a football field is cut down by illegal loggers around the globe. From the embezzlement of funds for environmental protection programmes to major corruption in the issuing of permits and licences for natural resource exploitation, corruption occurs at every level, often leaving environment safeguards ignored or bypassed.

The trafficking of endangered species of wildlife, minerals and precious stones as well as forest products such as timber are also inextricably linked to corruption. Bribery is present throughout the entire production chain from the forest to the port with fraudulent paperwork often being used to move the bulky illegal timber across borders and beyond.

Forest crime can have devastating results not just for the environment but for the local communities.  Nearly one billion poor people depend on forests for their livelihoods, so any illegal activity impacts them directly as well as affecting delicately balanced forest ecosystems. Other areas vulnerable to corruption include water supply, oil exploitation, fisheries and hazardous waste management.

Identifying the challenges

• Environmental damage: trafficking in wildlife can further threaten endangered species, while illegal logging can lead to a loss of biodiversity and increase carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.
• Low risk, high profit criminal business: for organized criminal groups the profits are good with little risk as forest crimes are rarely prosecuted and the sanctions often do not match the gravity of the crime.
• Bribery and cover-ups: criminals exploit the complicity of officials which can result in cover-ups of impact assessments of large scale water projects such as dams, canals and drains. Bribery and nepotism can also plague the awarding of licenses for the disposal of waste.
• Loss of livelihoods: when powerful businesses with the help of corrupt officials, can divert water resources away from small-scale farmers who rely on irrigation from rivers to grow their crops and make a living, the gap is further widened between the powerful and the powerless who can be left with restricted access to resources and land.
• Demand reduction: consumers can play a role in breaking the trade in wildlife and illegal timber by being conscientious about products used in traditional medicine such as rhino horn or tiger bones and paying careful attention to labelling when buying exotic timber.

The facts

• Trafficking in forest products, wildlife and forest biological resources is a major problem worldwide. It is of particular concern to developing countries. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging generates approximately US$10-15 billion annually in criminal proceeds (Justice for Forests: Improving Criminal Justice Efforts to Combat Illegal Logging, World Bank, 2012).
• Trafficking in timber is big business in South-East Asia which has the fastest deforestation rate on Earth with illicit logging a contributing factor. The trade in illegal timber from South-East Asia to the European Union and Asia was worth an estimated US$3.5 billion in 2010 (The Globalization of Crime: a Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2010).
• The costs of water infrastructure are increased by corruption by as much as 40 per cent which equates to an additional US$12 billion a year needed to provide worldwide safe drinking water and sanitation (Fighting corruption in the water sector, United Nations Development Programme, 2011)
• The sale of elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts in Asia alone were worth an estimated US$75 million in 2010 (The Globalization of Crime: a Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment, UNODC, 2010).
• Thousands of cases of animal poaching are reported every year in Africa and Asia. In just one incident in 2012, between 200-300 elephants were killed by raiders who had travelled on horseback across the border from Chad into Bouba Ndjida National Park in northern Cameroon (Elephants in the Dust - the African Elephant Crisis, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC), 2013)

UNODC: working as part of the solution

UNODC is working in partnership with UNEP, TRAFFIC and the Freeland Foundation to strengthen national capacities to detect illicit trade in natural resources and ozone-depleting substances at national borders within the Greater Mekong subregion. This initiative is strengthening cross-border cooperation so the illegal trade in timber, wildlife and hazardous waste can be tackled more systematically and effectively.

The UNODC programme in Indonesia is supporting anti-corruption efforts by the Supreme Court, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the criminal justice system and law enforcement generally. It also involves civil society mobilization to better combat emerging threats such as corruption and linked deforestation.

The UN Convention against Corruption

The cross-border nature of environmental crime and corruption, with raw material in one country ending up as a finished product in another makes international cooperation and information exchange a vital part of tackling this kind of transnational organized crime.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption with its comprehensive focus on corruption prevention, effective law enforcement, international cooperation and asset recovery, can be an effective tool to combat corruption in the environmental sector. States need to integrate anti-corruption strategies such as transparency and accountability into environmental legislation and policies and enhance democracy and good governance. Policymakers and governments in resource-rich countries can strengthen the legal framework and relevant institutions and improve transparency in procurement and contracts processes for large-scale infrastructure projects.

The private sector can play a key role by encouraging transparent tendering and adopting voluntary codes of conduct that are both ethical and sustainable with provisions for fighting corruption and safeguarding the environment.

Tackling corruption in the environmental sector will help create equitable access to essential resources such as water and a clean environment and is essential for protecting our environment and ensuring sustainable development.

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For further information please contact:

David Dadge, Spokesperson, UNODC
Mobile: (+507) 6800 3353Email: david.dadge[at]
Anne Thomas, Information Officer, UNIS Vienna
Mobile: (+507) 6800 2981 Email: anne.thomas[at]

For further information visit:

Conference website of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

Conference website of the Host Country:

For more information on UNODC's work against corruption visit:

Follow @UNODC on Twitter and join the conversation using #NoToCorruption and #CoSP5.