Sharpened focus on illicit trade in natural resources anticipated after UN adopts Kyoto Declaration

Illicit trade in natural resources – including protected flora and fauna as well as illegally harvested and mined commodities such as timber, metals and stones – is likely to come into sharper focus after the UN’s adoption of the Kyoto Declaration on Advancing Crime Prevention, Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law.

Banks can help crackdown on illicit trade in natural resources through advanced trade-tracking technologies as the scale of environmental crimes is changing, now often involving highly organised transnational criminal organisations (TCOs).

International crime focus

The Kyoto Declaration was adopted unanimously by heads of state and government, ministers and representatives of UN member states at the six-day 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice which ended on 12 March 2021 in Kyoto, Japan.

It calls for the adoption of a wide range of measures to tackle international criminality, amongst which are measures to prevent and combat crimes that affect the environment, such as illicit trafficking in flora and fauna as protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The declaration also calls for measures to tackle criminal trade in timber and timber products, hazardous wastes, precious metals, stones and other minerals.

Money laundering, corruption and TCOs

The declaration calls on member states to make the best possible use of relevant international instruments and to strengthen legislation, international cooperation, capacity-building, criminal justice responses and law enforcement efforts to deal with TCOs, corruption and money-laundering linked to such crimes, and illicit financial flows derived from such crimes.

The adoption of the declaration should be seen as a starting point and work towards its aims is expected to begin in earnest in May.

Industrial-scale criminality

The CITES secretariat welcomed the declaration for specifically identifying the need to adopt effective measures to prevent and combat crimes that affect wildlife and the environment.

CITES secretary-general Ivonne Higuero says that the scale and nature of wildlife and wider environmental crimes has changed. “Today, we see significant involvement of transnational criminal groups driving industrial-scale illegal operations,” she told the congress.

Role of banks

Banks can help organisations intent on preserving the earth’s fisheries, forests, wildlife and other natural resources by employing the increasingly sophisticated technologies according to compliance lead at FICO, Timothy Choon.

He points out the connections between illicit trade in natural resources and trade-based money laundering highlighted by conservation groups such as the USAID-funded Targeting Natural Resource Corruption consortium to improve biodiversity outcomes (Trade-based Financial Crime, February 10, 2021).

The draft Kyoto Declaration can be found here.


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