September 21, 2015

Southeast Asia to Unify Against Environmental Crime

Southeast Asia to Unify Against Environmental Crime

Malayan Tiger in the Water by B_cool @wikipedia

In what could be a huge step in protecting the environment, the group of Southeast Asian nations known as ASEAN is reportedly getting close to qualifying environmental offenses as transnational organized crime.

The revised definition would be fitting, as environmental crime in Southeast Asia is often a highly organized affair.  International networks of poachers, buyers, sellers, border guards and even politicians move illegal products around the region constantly.  The total value of environmental crime in Southeast Asia is estimated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to be US$23 billion, which is roughly the combined gross domestic product of Laos and Cambodia.  An ‘industry’ that size requires the destruction of a lot of forest and the extinction of many species.

The problem is a formidable threat to sustainable development – many of these countries depend on their forests for clean air, water and regular weather patterns.  Their environmental problems will multiply if the destruction continues, and the world depends on the knowledge it can gain from studying rare plants, animals and insects found in these tropical regions.

ASEAN member states include Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei.  A recent swell (and constant undertow) of illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, poaching and other environmental crimes has made it obvious that catching these criminals is beyond the ability of ASEAN members’ individual ministries of environment, police squads and wildlife crime enforcement agencies.  In order to protect their forests, plants and animals, the nations must work together.

That is exactly what defining environmental offenses as organized international crime would allow for.  Crimes now handled by small organizations would be tackled by national security ministries.  Crooks selling ivory and tiger teeth in Vietnam could be arrested if caught in Malaysia.  More funding would be devoted to the fight against environmental crime, meaning more personnel and better training.

These are all things ASEAN in general – and Malaysia in particular – need if they hope to enjoy any degree of environmental and economic stability.  The shift towards this new legal outlook is good news, and could spell a brighter future for Southeast Asia.

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