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Message from the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Marie De Meo, on the occasion of the Summit on Biodiversity “Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development"

"Greetings from Turin, Italy.  I am Antonia De Meo, the Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). I am here with you today to deliver one message: we must stop crimes against the environment.

As we all know, biodiversity reflects the idea of a shared ecosystem with interdependent relationships between flora and fauna. Environmental crimes are a major threat to biodiversity.  

The scope of environmental criminal activity is broad, ranging from trafficking to smuggling to illicit trade.  These crimes are conducted by a range of actors, often part of organized criminal networks, working within and across state borders. The objects of environmental crimes are also diverse, such as wildlife, fish, and exotic plants; ozone-depleting substances; e-waste and hazardous waste (including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials); mining, logging, and timber; and illicit pesticides.  Most elements of nature have become ripe for exploitation.

Crimes against the environment have reached massive global proportions. Often perceived as victimless crimes, the reality is that they threaten biodiversity, cause illness and death, increase corruption, and hinder the rule of law and development.
 
All this comes at a time when our planet is already under strain, when climate change threatens us in unprecedented ways and biodiversity loss is escalating at a worrying rate. As fires rage across my home state of California, causing epic destruction to homes, forests, and our clean air, I feel the threat personally, as do many of you, across the globe.

The Secretary-General, António Guterres, has emphasized that zoonotic diseases, including COVID-19, “are becoming more prevalent. Habitat loss, agriculture intensification and wildlife exploitation are reducing barriers between the human and animal world.”  Curbing illegal trade and trafficking in wildlife is a key strategy to prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.

UNICRI has already been combating crimes against the environment for three decades with its expertise in criminal justice and crime prevention. I reiterate UNICRI’s commitment to biodiversity, to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and to supporting Member States to protect the environment, especially from environmental crimes. 

UNICRI stands ready to continue its work through research, awareness raising, and capacity-building initiatives. This will include data collection on the scope and scale of the problem; analysis of the drivers and financial elements that underpin environmental crimes; and awareness-raising on the impact to support investigation and prosecution.

I welcome the ambitious mission of this Biodiversity Summit to accelerate action on biodiversity and I commend all of you for your important leadership.  I look forward to working together to stop crimes against the environment. Thank you."