Environmental crime cost the world a whopping 258 billion dollars last year, a full 26 per cent more than the year before, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol said Saturday in a joint report.

“Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace,” warned Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.

Environmental crime includes illegal wildlife trade, corporate crime in the forestry sector, illegal gold and mineral exploitation, illegal fisheries as well as the trafficking of hazardous waste and carbon credit fraud.

Over the last decade, environmental crime increased by five to seven per cent per year, according to the report. This means that environmental crime is growing two to three times faster than global gross domestic product (GDP).

It is also the world’s fourth-largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

The amount of money lost due to environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combatting it, which comes to about 30 million dollars, the report found.

Weak laws and poorly funded security forces are enabling international criminal networks and armed rebels to profit from a trade that devastates ecosystems and is threatening species with extinction, the authors said.

“The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business and fuel insecurity around the world,” said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Poaching of some of world’s most vulnerable wildlife, like rhinos and elephants, has increased by more than 25 per cent every year in the last decade, according to the report.

In the past ten years, poachers have killed an average of 3,000 elephants per year in Tanzania, for example. That’s an annual street market value for ivory traffickers of 10.5 million dollars – or five times more than Tanzania’s national wildlife budget.

The report also highlights that transnational organised criminal networks are using environmental crime to launder drug money. Illegal gold mining in Colombia, for instance, is considered one of the easiest ways to launder money from the country’s drug trade, according to the report.

International criminal cartels also traffic hazardous waste and chemicals. In 2013, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that illegal trade in e-waste to Southeast Asia and the Pacific was estimated at 3.75 billion dollars annually.

Criminal networks linked to the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have reportedly spent about two per cent of their proceeds to fund almost 50 different rebel groups. According to some estimates by the UN, the illegal exploitation of natural resources in eastern DRC is valued at almost 900 million dollars annually.

In addition, the report found that the cost of forestry crimes, including corporate crimes and illegal logging, is estimated at up to 152 billion dollars per year.

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