The issue of illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive commodities and capacity building of customs officers for its prevention is receiving increasing recognition in MEA (Multilateral Environmental Agreement) negotiations and increased attention by many international organizations.
Indeed, the World Customs Organization assigned environmental crime as a priority for 2009 and the theme for International Customs Day on 26 January 2009 was “Customs and the Environment: Protecting our Natural Heritage.”
Ignorance, lack of awareness and the low-priority often assigned to environmental crime by many authorities makes it an attractive area of operation for smugglers, offering a lucrative business with low risks. National and international crime syndicates worldwide earn an estimated US$20-30 billion dollars annually from hazardous waste dumping, smuggling proscribed hazardous materials, and exploiting and trafficking protected natural resources. Illegal international trade in “environmentally-sensitive” commodities such as ozone depleting substances (ODS), toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, endangered species and living modified organisms is an international problem with serious consequences. It can directly threaten human health and the environment; contribute to species loss; result in revenue loss for governments; and undermine the success of international environmental agreements by circumventing agreed rules and procedures. It is also of great concern that environmental crime is often linked with other social crime and illegal activities such as money laundering and organized crime.
Green Customs is a cross-cutting initiative that supports a number of UNEP’s priorities, including those on environmental governance, harmful substances and hazardous waste, environmental sustainability, and climate change. The Initiative is a partnership of international organizations cooperating to enhance the capacity of customs and other relevant enforcement personnel to monitor and facilitate the legal trade and to detect and prevent illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive commodities covered by the relevant conventions and multilateral MEAs. This is achieved through awareness-raising on all the relevant international agreements as well as provision of assistance and tools to the enforcement community. Green Customs is designed to complement and enhance existing customs training efforts under the respective agreements.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Interpol, OPCW, UNEP, UNODC and the World Customs Organization joined the Green Customs Initiative.
The Green Customs Initiative provides coordinated and cost-effective delivery of training and awareness-raising of customs officers and enforcement personnel. The initiative is delivered through a variety of means.
The Initiative assists in achieving goals to increase detection of smugglers and illegally-traded commodities by national customs officers, facilitate legal trade, strengthen capacity for national compliance and enforcement of MEAs through monitoring of trade, increase opportunities for dialogue with regional trade partner countries on illegal trade issues, sustain capacity-building through integrating Green Customs into national customs training curricula, and prevent loss of revenue from tax and duty avoidance associated with smuggling. Ultimately, a decrease in environmental crime, control of toxic chemicals and waste, and better species protection should contribute to a less polluted and more sustainable environment.
Cooperation on illegal trade is an excellent opportunity for international organizations and MEA secretariats to work together across different issue areas, as many of the problems and solutions regarding the monitoring of trade in ODS, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, living modified organisms and endangered species are similar. Green Customs presents a practical means to facilitate such cooperation. It is a small but iconic and significant example of good environmental governance achieved through cooperation, coordination and synchronization of activities of MEA secretariats and other partner organizations.