Criminal syndicates are currently generating an estimated $258 billion from illegal plunder of the planet's natural capital, says a joint UNEP-Interpol report launched on Saturday ahead of the World Environment Day.
The 'Rise of Environmental Crime' report reveals that illegal exploitation and trafficking of flora and fauna has spiked by 26 percent thanks to weak policing alongside lethargic enforcement of existing laws.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner decried the rise in environmental crimes terming it a threat to livelihoods, stability and sustainable development, Xinhua reported.
"The vast sums of money generated from environmental crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, fuels insecurity and devastates ecosystems and local economies," Steiner said.
Environmental crimes have surpassed illegal trade in small arms in terms of profits accrued and the sophistication of perpetrators.
The joint UNEP-Interpol report reveals that illegal trade in small arms is worth $3 billion compared to $258 billion generated from cross border trafficking of species.
Steiner emphasised the need for global solidarity to bring an end to environmental crimes that have become pervasive in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end," said the UNEP chief
Illegal trade in flora and fauna ranks the fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
The joint report indicates the amount of money lost due to environmental crimes is 10,000 times higher than the amount spent by international agencies to combat it.
Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock said that innovative and collaborative approaches were an imperative to help root out illegal trafficking of species.
"Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace. The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders," Stock said.
He added that Interpol will strengthen collaboration with member states to help identify and crack down on criminal syndicates involved in illegal trade in rare species.
The joint report notes that international criminal networks are involved in a series of environmental crimes that includes poaching, illegal logging, fishing and dumping of toxic waste.
It recommends robust public awareness, capacity building for law enforcement agencies, collaboration and adoption of state of the art technology to help minimise environmental crimes.