Photo: Luis Barreto/WWF UK

Photo: Luis Barreto/WWF UK


5 December 2022

Richard Scobey

Richard Scobey

Executive Director

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Global Policy

Strengthened Alliances to Counter Environmental Corruption

A new practitioners forum brings together some of the world’s leading conservation and anti-corruption organisations: Transparency InternationalWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF)TRAFFIC, and the Basel Institute on Governance. Our challenge: counter the environmental corruption that is enabling the destruction of our planet, undermining human rights, and threatening the global transformation to environmentally sustainable economies.

This joint article is authored by Rueben Lifuka, Vice-Chair and Brice Böhmer, Climate & Environment Lead, Transparency International; Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President, Wildlife Conservation, World Wildlife Fund; Elaine Geyer-Allély, Interim Leader, Governance Practice, WWF International; Gretta Fenner, Managing Director, Basel Institute on Governance; and Richard Scobey, Executive Director, TRAFFIC.

Corruption is destroying the planet

Corruption is driving environmental degradation and biodiversity loss at a staggering rate. It greases the wheels of illegal supply chains for wildlife, fish, and timber. It allows criminal networks and unscrupulous corporations to exploit the natural environment with the collusion of public officials.

It is helping to fuel the destruction of forests crucial to addressing climate change, including the Congo Basin peatlands and the Amazon Rainforest, which now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. It has been flagged as a critical factor in the loss of some 420 million hectares of forests globally between 1990 and 2020.

It also depletes our oceans as large Western fishing companies, among others, have been implicated in fraud, corruption and money laundering to reap profits from illegal fishing.

Our planet is in trouble. Wildlife populations have plummeted by 69% since 1970. 40% of land has been degraded, directly affecting half of the world’s population and fueling conflict over scarce resources.

The international community gathered this year for vital climate negotiations and is making important decisions and recommendations for sustaining global biodiversity. If we don’t strengthen alliances to better address corruption now, we cannot reach essential targets.

Environmental corruption involves activities ranging from the bribery of officials to obtain export permits for protected species, to government actors granting large logging and mining concessions or infrastructure projects without regard for environmental harm.

Research by the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project and partners is now revealing the extent of corruption’s impact on the environment and natural resource management and building knowledge on approaches that can help to stop it.

Corruption is threatening the green transition

Massive investments are already flowing into projects to address climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation. More will come: tackling this triple crisis will require a USD 8 trillion investment in nature by 2050, according to some estimates. And climate finance needs for developing countries and emerging markets are put at USD 1 trillion per year and rising.

But new investments draw new corruption risks. Corruption can divert resources away from efforts to address, mitigate, and adapt to climate change and restore and rely more upon nature. For example, research done by Transparency International Bangladesh in 2020 sampling climate adaptation infrastructure projects from 2010 forward estimated that 35% of project funds are being embezzled, and nearly 80% of projects are poorly constructed because of leakages from corruption.

Investments in nature-based solutions like REDD+ are thought to need to triple by 2030 – but these projects face serious corruption risks, which also plague the mining sector, essential in meeting some of the world’s minerals needs for electrification and transition.

What is also clear is that these various forms of environmental corruption have knock-on effects on transparency, accountability, and human rights.

Anti-corruption and conservation success stories

The conservation and anti-corruption communities have traditionally worked in silos, but with the current environmental emergency we face, leading actors are coming together.

The results of these collaborations are exciting, innovative, and often courageous. Snapshots include:

  • WWF Peru, with support from USAID via TNRC, is helping small-scale fishers to obtain permits to fish without having to resort to bribery by introducing an electronic departure certificate app;
  • TRAFFIC, which fights illegal wildlife trade, has, with support from the Basel Institute, pioneered an open data approach to identifying corruption risks in the timber trade in Latin America;
  • Transparency International is constituting a Climate Corruption Atlas which maps corruption in climate finance across the globe, identifying success cases, like the Maldives, for promoting integrity;
  • Transparency International, TRAFFIC, and WWF, with USAID support, are working to strengthen border control in the judicial and prosecutorial systems to better counter wildlife trafficking in Madagascar;
  • The Basel Institute is working in Malawi with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to mitigate corruption risks in its operations with support from UK’s DEFRA and USAID via TNRC;
  • Also, with DEFRA support, the Basel Institute is advising the authorities in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uganda and Malawi on parallel financial investigations and asset recovery efforts related to environmental crimes.

Meanwhile, important work has been done to support a global policy environment that enables this work – for instance, via the UNCAC Coalition Working Group on Environmental Crime and Corruption and FACT Coalition.


How could you contribute?

Environmental corruption is a systemic problem costing trillions of dollars, and affecting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, and the future of our planet. Given the scale and cross-cutting nature of this threat, conservation and governance practitioners need to work together even more closely, and more frequently, than we are now.

That’s why, at the International Anti-Corruption Conference 2022, we are launching a new forum for practitioners. Founding members are Transparency International, WWF, TRAFFIC and the Basel Institute on Governance, with financial support from USAID and the Principality of Liechtenstein.

The Countering Environmental Corruption Practitioners Forum is open to all and is designed to be a hands-on space in which we combine talents and expertise to innovate, collaborate, share, and exchange knowledge and information, and scale solutions from the ground up.

Join the Practitioners Forum


The official launch will take place on Tuesday, 6 December at 09:30 EST at a session of the International Anti-Corruption Conference: A call to action: building bridges across conservation and anti-corruption practice to stop environmental corruption from the ground up.

This blog post also appears on the websites of the USAID Targeting Natural Resource Project (TNRC) and Basel Institue on Governance