Home » Side event: Drugs and the environment: Towards more environmentally sustainable drug policies

Side event: Drugs and the environment: Towards more environmentally sustainable drug policies

Organised by Germany with the support of Australia, Brazil, France, Peru, Thailand and the UNODC Research and Trend Analysis Branch

Daniel Brombacher, GIZ, Germany. We are happy to see the issue of the environment having gained growing support. Our AD resolution in 2022 was the first that had the environment in the title. This year’s resolution also includes mentions of the environment. Jointly with France, we have supported the UNODC WDR 2022 and 2023 on different aspects of the environmental agenda within drug policy and we have recently launched the UNODC practical guide on the environment and AD for the first time. We are happy to have a panel of unlikely alliances with Brazil, Thailand, Peru, Australia and UNODC. The work of the UNODC research branch has been crucial to advance the agenda.

Mr. Blienert, Germany. On behalf of the German government, I welcome you to this side event. Since 2021, Germany has co-hosted CND side events on the environmental dimension of drug policies, with longstanding collaboration with France, Peru, Thailand and UNODC. This year, we count on huge support from Brazil and Australia. This partnership reflects the strong support for discussing drugs and the environment. We need an open debate. The importance of mitigating the environmental impact of illicit drug production and trafficking is reflected in scientific findings, the 2 WDRs which provide powerful evidence. Drug production often takes place in natural reserves. The production of each kg of cocaine generates 590kg of CO2. In comparison, 1kg of coffee generates 20 kg of CO2. Often overlooked, cultivation generates challenges, including narco-deforestation, destruction of protected areas, etc. the production of synthetic drugs and waste generates ecological harms across the globe. Addressing the environmental dimension of illicit drug production is a key issue for GPDPD. I also want to thank the Partnership for organising this side event. The partnership has been instrumental in bringing the topic of AD to the forefront of CND discussions and in past years’ resolutions. Thank you for your efforts. Together, we can make green drug policy a reality.

Laura d’Arrigo, France. It’s an honour for me to introduce this side event. There is increasing evidence to show that beyond the health and security impacts of drugs, production and trafficking have an important negative impact on the environment: use of toxic chemicals, high energy and water consumption, etc. France is committed on this issue, in fostering the knowledge by promoting and supporting UNODC studies on this issue. I thank UNODC for the excellent quality of its reports on this issue. For years now, France has done efforts to support AD programmes. We hope the resolution of this year will be more ambitious than the previous years. We also want to raise young people’s awareness of the drugs impacts on the environment. It may be an additional way of preventing consumption. Drug-related pollution is a concern and we will work with partners on shared solutions.

Anya Korenblik, UNODC. I will give you a brief overview of our research on drugs and the environment from our WDR 2022 and 2023. In 2022, we analysed the direct and indirect impact of drug cultivation and production on deforestation, and we also analysed drug responses’ impacts, including AD. We estimated the carbon footprint of cocaine production. We compared different types of cultivation. We found that the carbon footprint of cocaine was 40 to 80 times higher than for coffee and cocoa beans and the sugar cane. This includes the use of agrochemicals and the chemical waste associated with alkaloid extraction. Water waste cannot be easily measured in this context. We also looked at synthetic drugs produced all over the world. The main environmental impact there is related to the dumping and discharge of waste and air pollution. It’s not easy to measure and we did a small exercise focusing on annual seizures for meth and amphetamines, calculating the minimum annual waste for these seizures. What many people talk about is the deforestation related to coca, cannabis and opium cultivation. I have an example on coca cultivation. In Amazonia and Catatumbo in Colombia, deforestation caused by coca cultivation is very small. But a large part is the indirect deforestation associated with coca cultivation. This brings me to the 2023 WDR which focused on the Amazon region. On this slide, you see unregistered airstrips for mining operations and movement of drugs and other contrabands. The red dots on the map showed in the map in the darker area are the protected areas, including indigenous territories. Illegal gold mining is strongly associated with drug trafficking in the Amazon region. Gold mining in itself causes environmental damage. If it’s illegal and involves drug trafficking groups, it will cause even more damage. What we have seen in the WDR is that several of the largest drug trafficking organisations are involved in leveraging logistical capabilities and trafficking groups for contraband, linking it to exploitation and violence. We also see links with trafficking and contraband in other goods. We think that this calls for integrated efforts to address drug and environmental challenges, with a focus on indigenous communities and disrupting cycles of instability and limited rule of law.

Mafalda Pardel. Illegal production of synthetic drugs happens on a wide scale in Europe, especially in Germany and Belgium. This is associated with waste, 5 times the weight of the end product. The potential of damage to the environment can be substantial. We’ve mostly looked at Belgium in our research. The production and dumping sites there is concentrated in the border with the Netherlands. This ca be small compared to the waste associated with other illegal activities. But labs have now spread in other regions of Belgium. There is also increased capacity of production, affected by COVID-19. Labs now produce multiple substances. There is an expansion of Belgian and Dutch criminal networks and instances of involvement of Mexican individuals involved in the production process, especially for methamphetamine production. Regarding waste, blue barrels are discarded on the side of roads, forests, etc. There is a shift to more direct discharges, not even in containers. They are dumped in soil and waters. It makes it harder to identify and can affect public health. If we focus on what happens after a dumping site is found, there are hurdles. First, there are no national guidelines on how to handle the aftercare of these sites. It happens on a case by case basis. This is based on informal agreements on an ad hoc basis. The remediation process of these sites is a slow process and with limited resources. There are also important economic challenges: who bears the costs of clean up of these sites? To conclude, in practice what we’ve seen so far is a mix of responses in Belgium, ranging from expanding the capacity to detect, restoring and cleaning up sites, capacity building and examples of courts considering the environmental harms when sanctioning criminal actors. But this invites a broader question: are these responses enough from an environmental perspective? Should we consider other policies?

Nicholas Magliocca, University of Alabama. We have to think about the root causes of unsustainability. It’s no longer possible to address equity and sustainability separately. There are three main pathways for narcotrafficking driven land use change in Central America: direct use (territorial control of an area), money laundering (cattle ranching, palm oil), indirect effects (informal markets opening up spaces which would not be accessible otherwise). The impacts vary depending on where you are. There are informal infrastructure being established, routes being created to move goods to consumption markets, land grabbing, cattle ranching, deforestation, transformation of rural economies by powerful actors. The primary response to the security threat is the increased use of law enforcement. We invest in 17 departments in Central America, and this has shifted in response to counter drug interdiction. We modelled how patterns in drug trafficking changed depending on the supply reduction strategies, and production and trafficking moved to indigenous lands which are more vulnerable and fragile. We studied changes in flora and fauna in these protected areas (jaguars in particular). We also saw impacts on migratory birds in areas of increased trafficking activities in response to drug law enforcement efforts. We can say that instability from persistent security threats makes it unlikely that the SDGs will be met in terms of biodiversity conservation. We have pervasive security threats and perpetuations of cycles of poverty and vulnerability to exploitation, insecurity and inequity. Nothing will change unless we rethink the current prohibitive approach to drug policy.

Duke Diskul, Thailand. We look at the environmental aspect of AD programmes. Outside of here we talk about climate change. In areas with illegal cultivation, we face deforestation, use of chemicals, waste water dumped into the environment affecting plants and animals. If people make a living through creating environmental damage, we must find ways to create income equal to be able to protect the environment. In Thailand we work with communities to look after our forests and have partnerships with the private sector that pays the communities for their work. We mainstream this through the capitalistic market at large. We identify projects that are suitable, the community is involved in every step of the way, to protect the forest, ensure that there are no activities that would harm the environment, they get paid for this, there are income generating activities. And we collaborate with the private sector to make this all possible, who pay high prices for the products generated. We must find ways to replicate this model. I’m not saying our model is replicable elsewhere, but the concept of it could be adapted to other regions. We should work beyond the drug community to reach the environmental sector. This will help provide additional pockets of funding for these programmes.

Jorge Ponce, Peru. Drug trafficking is complex and dynamic, generating economic activities. It is important to point out that in Peru, 90% of coca cultivation is diverted to drug trafficking, increasing vulnerability and impacting on security and health and the environment, mostly impacting the Amazon. Illicit drug trafficking affects especiallty the wellbeing of vulnerable families immersed in this crime, as well as links with logging, mining, human trafficking and other criminal activities. We must understand the growing dynamics of drug trafficking globally, as a profitable business model. The criminal change maintains a loyal public going all the way to the consumers who guarantee the profitability of the business. Peru has put together a policy for an environmentally focused approach, focused on the reduction of the vulnerability of families involved in this criminal market, which permeates deeply in the social fabric. The presence of the state is promoted with a culture of peace. This is incorporated in our sustainable framework. The alternative is an intervention for the reduction of the coca growing area, with technical and financial operation of our authorities. Only in this way will we address drug supply reduction to reduce the vulnerability of the families to this criminal activity.

Marta Machado, Brazil. I extend my gratitude for this side event. I want to share brief remarks on Brazil’s context and challenges. The convergence of trafficking and other crimes severely harms indigenous and local communities with fights in control over territories. Criminal organisations are involved in various activities, contributing to deforestation, corruption and community harms, facilitating money laundering. The consequences of gold extraction in the Amazon has had an impact on communities including indigenous peoples and their environment. Countries and the private sector should share responsibility to tighten control to implement share principles and efforts on environmentally guided drug policies. We should increase the resilience of indigenous communities. On 16 March, Brazil had a day on climate change awareness. Then, Rio reached a record breaking high temperature. This highlights a profound connection between drug trafficking routes and climate change. And this is not limited to borders. Brazil will host the climate summit next, and we thrive to work towards a sustainable future.

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