Side event: Links between drugs and the environment

Organized by the UNODC Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs with the support of France and Germany

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs. Many thanks for being here today. A few weeks ago, during the framework of the CCPCJ, we convened a 3-day session on drugs, crime and the environment: climate change, improper water management, etc. many goals we have to address within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We are discussing poverty, inequality, environmental conservation and accountable institutions. And although there are no agreements on which crimes impact the environment, they do encroach on peace, security and development. On violent crime, we see that the routes used and concealments and logistics involved interact with other forms of organised crime. So we must look at drugs having an impact on the environment so that efforts to tackle both are integrated. I encourage you to read the World Drug Report 2022 which includes a chapter on drugs and development. I will guide you through our discussion here today.

Dr. Angela Me, UNODC Trend and Analysis Branch. I wanted to put out one slide to show you some information on the upcoming World Drug Report 2022. Our special booklet will be on drugs and the environment, looking at links between the world drug problem, but also in relation to drug policy and see how this impacts different environment dimensions, including on deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, ecosystem loss, etc. We are looking at different pathways: how the manufacture and disposal of precursors impacts on the environment. We look at the impact of manufacture of synthetic drugs impacts soil and water. But we are also looking at the impact of drug policy to highlight the impact of some AD programmes, on whether they do or don’t consider environmental problems. I will conclude here leaving you with this picture, hoping you look forward to what we are going to present on 26th June.

Dr. Thomas ter Laak, KWR Water Research Institute, Netherlands. I will discuss the size of synthetic drug production, focusing on The Netherlands and Belgium, looking into the waste you can expect from amphetamine, MDMA and amphetamines and the impact on the environment. We don’t really know the size of production for synthetic drugs. Estimates show there are over 150 tons produced annually for MDMA, and even larger amounts of waste (1000 tons per year). There are estimations on the size of the market in the EU, but the EU is not the only market in the world, so we don’t know how much waste is out there. The most important waste are aqueous solutions (acid based) and organic solvents. MDMA generates 5-10kg of waste per kg of drug produced, and it’s even higher for amphetamines. So where does this all go? I’m not talking here about the precursors which are often produced elsewhere. There is solid waste, liquid waste, which go into the soil and surface water through the waste water system. And of course the drug production plant also produces products, the drugs themselves, and are consumed through the body and go into the surface water. When you see at the impact of drug production waste components: there is a drug waste damp in The Netherlands and the consumption residues are also seen across The Netherlands. Besides the local and regional impacts, it can impact on the water sources in the long run. As an illustration, you can see the waste of treatment plants in large cities. At the bottom, you see the amount of two drugs of consumption with three periods of about 2-3 months, this is waste from consumption, and this doesn’t even cover the production of the drug itself. So what you can see here is that the impact of the waste of production can have high peaks and largely impact the environment.

Dr Maria Alejandra Velez, Centre of Studies on Security and Drugs, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. shifting gears here I will start talking about coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. Colombia is the largest coca grower and cocaine producer. There have been drug policy impacts of Colombia’s policies on the environment with forced eradication and aerial fumigation and also of AD programmes. 48% of coca crops are in special management zones which are key for forest and biodiversity conservation. It’s not the main driver of deforestation, but at least 7% of deforestation is associated with coca crop. So we need to start talking about drug policy through an environment nest. AD and crop substitution programmes should be revalued with an agricultural focus. The initial design didn’t consider a differential approach, land use overlaps, and land use conflicts, etc. Programmes should clarify land rights and focus on conflict resolution, as well as environment considerations at the very beginning of the programme. The programmes are also not considering the coca grower’s culture: we need technical assistance to shift this culture. We also need to make payments for environmental services to support the transition to legality, complement substitution programmes, and commit to environmental terms. The PNIS has supported 11,345 families located in environmentally strategic areas but so far this is not well implemented. We’ve also developed an interactive webbed tool to support policymakers to prioritise the development of payments for environmental services. It will show the priority areas based on deforestation, presence of strategic ecosystems, species at risk, etc. to support policy makers. Coca crops are also not the only illicit markets in our territories and so we need to intervene and formalise/certify other markets as well (e.g. gold). Finally, any intervention in the territory should emphasise community organisation. They are not passive actors, they have resisted. We must strengthen community organisation and invest in organisational capacity to resist illicit economies.

M.L. Dispanadda Diskul, Me Fah Luang Foundation under the Royal Patronage, Thailand. Crop cultivation causes unintended environmental impacts, especially for local communities who try to get by. Traditionally AD is all about moving away from illegality while at the same time moving to other cultivations and supporting development. But it’s hard. The game has changed recently and I wanted to point out the Paris Agreement since 2016 and COP26 last year. The outcome of COP26 is a commitment by member states to address environmental concerns. Here we’re talking about an annual fund of USD 1 billion that can be used for a number of environmental efforts. There are two ways in which we could get access to that fund for AD programmes: deforestation and illicit crop cultivation. You want to change this into forest protection and licit income. This funding is interesting. In Thailand, we got this funding from the private sector to push for net zero. Some companies want to get credit from the forest, which is limited in Thailand, so they want to get in this early. Everybody is rushing to get their credit from the forest, and that would help to provide additional income to communities looking after the forest. Imagine expanding the product beyond national borders and getting funding from the fund. The income may not be a lot, but when you multiply it with the area covered for communities it can be significant. We need to think about this and find ways to integrate this effort into our AD programmes.

Mr. Sebastian Lesch, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany. We promote development-oriented approaches for AD, aligned with the EU drug strategy. AD is the key policy for us, with our commitment to gender equality, ending poverty, protecting the environment. There is growing evidence on the impacts of drug cultivation on deforestation. Our understanding on the environmental harms of crop cultivation is limited so we decided to support the UNODC WDR 2022 with our French partners and its focus on the environment. We thank France and UNODC for this effort. We hope to make our AD interventions more sensitive to the environment. We also intend to bring this topic to the CND, showcasing the links between drugs and the environment. We have promoted licit sources of income for instance in Colombia. But nearly 50% of coca cultivation is still located in protected areas. So our efforts in Colombia focus on these areas. The shift of coca cultivation to protected areas underlines the need for innovative approaches: e.g. environmental policy, without focusing solely on traditional agriculture. Our approach combines pilot projects there as well as research. The experiences presented today from Thailand and Colombia gives us hints on the use of instruments we could use in AD. We’re really interested within the German government on social and ecological sustainability. We want to address this issue during this presidency.

Ms. Laura d’Arrigo, MILDECA, France. I thank UNODC and GIZ for organising this important side event to further reflect on our national policies and international cooperation projects. I also acknowledge our excellent cooperation with UNODC and the dedicated booklet in 2022. We also hope we will continue to increase awareness for the need for environmental protection in drug policy. We usually approach drug control from a health and social policy, and environmental concerns are new. Drug production, transport and use are responsible for many environmental harms including release of toxic gas, emissions, etc. These are very diverse but too little known. Research, data collection and sound analysis should be promoted to better measure and understand the phenomenon. I am also convinced that disseminating scientific information on this topic will raise awareness, especially among young people. We would encourage increasing international cooperation on this project to ensure a global common approach. UNODC, UNEP, UNDP, FAO should certainly work together if possible. France is committed, aligning with the EU drug strategy, for a long term and sustainable approach to drug policy, taking the environmental impacts into account. I look forward to further cooperation in the months and years to come.

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