Interpol and the U.N. Have Created an International Environmental Crime-fighting Agency, and It’s Pretty Rad

Most people over the age of 25 remember Captain Planet, an animated, eco-crime fighting superhero unleashed by the collective power of five rings, each worn by a teenager who hailed from a different continent (there apparently wasn’t enough in the budget for an Australian member). The “elemental warrior” combated toxic waste, air pollution, and other manmade environmental threats. There was also an earth spirit voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. It was awesome.

Now, Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Program are teaming up to finish some of the battles that Captain Planet started. The yet-unnamed coalition has initially set their sights on two long-standing environmental concerns: illegal species poaching and timber theft. Members of both organizations convened in Nairobi last week to discuss the “rapidly escalating environmental crime wave” that is currently putting much of the world at risk.

Illegal ivory is at the forefront of discussions about animal poaching. According to Global Animal, 90 elephants and 35 rhinos were illegally hunted in Kenya this year alone. Much of the ivory demand stems from China, where two large-scale smuggling rings were collared earlier this month. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates the two operations (with their powers combined) were trafficking roughly $100 million worth in ivory between Asia and Africa. Last week, Tanzanian officials successfully seized more than 700 tusks from three houses owned by Chinese traders in the capital city of Dodoma.

“People from around the world are outraged that organized criminal networks are robbing the world of our elephants, rhinos, tigers and other wildlife, purely for the profit of a very few outlaws,” said Azzedine Downes, who serves as president of the IFAW. “If range state countries are willing to commit to enforcement that works across national boundaries, our supporters in non-range states are willing to step up and help fund those efforts.”

As for timber theft, the U.N. and Interpol point to “timber cartels” as the primary culprits. Every year, “tens of billions of dollars” worth of lumber are illegally logged and shipped across the globe. This not only hurts the planet, but also the millions of forest-dwelling populations that rely on healthy tree growth for food, shelter, and employment. “This is a global phenomenon,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program. “This is a global market place. These are global syndicates, criminals that are engaging in this trade.”

The cooperative efforts between Interpol and the U.N. signal a new approach to international environmental regulations and prosecution of those who would violate these laws. Look for this group to tackle a wide range of eco-problems in the years to come, Planeteers-style (without the magical rings).