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Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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One of the most difficult things to deal with when working in EIA’s forest campaign is jet lag.

By the time you’ve ensured you have all your equipment, contacted your sources, confirmed meetings and booked travel plans, actually sitting on the plane with no communications for 11 hours is a bit of a break. But knowing that sleep deprivation is at the other end is something I try not to think about. There are three of us here in Thailand from EIA’s Forest Team to launch our new report “Crossroads: The Illicit Timber Trade Between Laos and Vietnam” and to follow up on our campaign in Indonesia with our partner Telepak.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

Our press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where the findings of our undercover investigations traced the illegal trade of logs from Laos to Vietnam. A lot of work was done beforehand, arranging the undercover investigations and writing the new report, making the new film, working with our superb communications team, contacting the media and arranging for facilities, so when I was hit by the dreaded jet lag at 4am and lay there willing myself to go back to sleep, my mind was actually on this issue. The forests of Laos are in crisis. The people of Laos are ending up with a raw deal, and those with vested interests continue to make deals for huge profits. It’s wrong that a country blessed with the mighty Mekong River, beautiful forests filled with a wide biodiversity and a gentle people whose culture and livelihoods depended on their forests are under such a threat. I say depended, because if the timber industry of Vietnam continues to use the raw materials from Laos the way it is doing now, those who rely on the forest are doomed.

 Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

I also find it greedy and short-sighted that a country such as Laos, which is blessed with its bountiful natural resources, is selling the energy from the Mekong River to neighbouring Thailand and its forests to the highest bidder, with nothing going back to its people.

As my jet lag continued and I saw the first light of a new day, I was also reminded of the many individuals in Laos and Vietnam who are quite simply champions. The courageous, the patriots, the ones with massive hearts and compassion for their country. Those are the people that the forest team in EIA is so lucky to work with.

So when I sat in front of the journalists and diplomats at the FCCT this morning, I was reminded that our work supports those who live in countries where having a press conference and naming names is far too dangerous for them, and coping with jet lag is nothing compared to what they are facing. But because of them, I know our campaigns will go from strength to strength.

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

Head of Forest Campaign

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EIA Campaigners will be blogging on a daily basis from the IWC.

Day 4 – Thursday 14th July – The Last Day

 

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal. Credit EIA.

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal.

After the great result on the UK governance proposal, we sped through some other business last night – agreeing important items such as the Audited Accounts, the budget and other financial and administrative business.

The report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub Committee report was agreed with very little controversy, other than an exchange of views between India and the Russian Federation, after India called for aboriginal subsistence quotas to be reduced in the future. Next year will not be so easy as the catch limits for these hunts will be due for renewal. A resolution was adopted by consensus agreeing to a work plan to prepare for next year’s discussions on these catch limits.

Next up was the eternally controversial request by Japan for an IWC endorsed quota for four of its coastal communities. Japan has made this request every year since the moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented 25 years ago. Whilst Japan had a placeholder on the agenda for a proposal relating to this matter, it stated that it decided in the interest of cooperation not to make this request.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

Discussions on the Future of the IWC have dominated the IWC for the past 3 years, including several intersessional meetings. Last year discussions were abandoned and a year’s pause was promised for reflection. This year a Resolution was tabled by the US and New Zealand calling for further cooperative work. After some disagreement on proposed revisions to the resolution, it was withdrawn with a ‘sort of’ agreement to work cooperatively together in future. It is very clear to EIA what the future of the IWC is – focusing maximum effort and resources on effectively addressing the myriad of threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises including climate change, pollution, ship strikes, entanglement and marine debris.

The day concluded with a most enjoyable reception hosted by a coalition of NGOs. Delegates had time to relax, enjoy some delicious food, and friendly chat. A good end to a hard day.

Thursday dawned as the final day of this annual meeting. It started with discussion of a resolution on safety at sea, proposed by Japan (in response to Sea Shepherd’s campaign in the Southern Ocean). Having withdrawn the coastal whaling quota, this was Japan’s key issue, and despite the fact that the IWC is not the correct forum to discuss safety at sea issues, delegates agreed the Resolution in the continuing spirit of compromise and consensus. Unfortunately, that spirit didn’t last.

Japan walks out. Credit EIA

Japan walks out.

For ten years Latin American countries have been calling for the IWC to agree a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic to contribute to greater protection of depleted whale populations, investment in scientific research, and creation of local cetacean watching opportunities with the associated economic benefits. One NGO from each side of the debate was permitted to make a presentation on the subject – some small compensation for the proposal on NGO participation having been removed from yesterday’s agreement.

Whilst the majority of IWC contracting governments supported the proposed sanctuary Iceland, Saint Kitts and Cameroun said they would block a consensus. With regret, Brazil decided to call for a vote, however Japan then stated that they and all ‘sustainable use’ countries would leave the room so there would be no quorum (a quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present for decisions to be made – IWC rules state that “Attendance by a majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum”). Japan stated that their understanding was that with 89 members, 45 should form a quorum. He further stated “..this is not a hostile action, we only do this to avoid voting”. Although many countries urged Japan and others not to take such drastic steps, after the Chair of the Commission asked for a vote to take place, Japan, Iceland, Norway and all other pro-whaling countries left the room.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary. Credit EIA.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary.

That was at 12:00 and at 8.30pm, some eight & a half hours later, Commissioners finally dragged themselves back to the plenary room, having agreed a short text which explained what had happened (in very diplomatic words which made Japan, Iceland and their allies look much more reasonable than they actually were). The text essentially agreed to form an intersessional group to look further into the rules of procedure, and to leave the sanctuary agenda item open with its discussion to be the first substantive item at the beginning of IWC64. In effect, Japan, Iceland and others successfully blocked the democratic right of the Latin Americans to have their sanctuary proposal voted on.

The chair then asked for adoption of the Conservation Committee report, Conservation Management Plans, Whale watching, Environment and Health Issues, Small cetaceans and other items under the Scientific Committee report with no discussion (and no NGO interventions). A frankly depressing end to a meeting that had started so well.

The only highlight was the announcement by the Secretary that a group of NGOs had contributed more than £10,000 to the small cetacean fund and this was followed up by generous contributions by Italy and France.

It was then agreed that the tricky issue electing a Chair and Vice-Chair would be done by post, and a short presentation was given by Panama, who will host IWC64. The finale of the meeting was a standing ovation to Fiona and Bernard from the IWC Secretariat. They are both taking retirement after more than two decades each of loyal, hard working and cheerful service to the IWC. They will be greatly missed. The IWC Secretariat work tirelessly all year to ensure our meetings run smoothly and always have a smile for everyone. Our best wishes to Fiona and Bernard and thanks to all the staff for everything they do for the organisation.

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

It’s hard not to feel discouraged that so much of the time, money and effort that we put into whale and dolphin conservation can be so easily sabotaged by the underhand tactics of just a few countries. But while the conservation work might not have had the discussion at IWC63 that it deserved, the work will still go on and we will be ready next year to insist that whale conservation is discussed as a priority issue at the start of the meeting. And we were also pleased that our report had encouraged a number of countries to forcefully criticise Iceland’s whaling and whale trade at the IWC meeting – something that is long overdue.

***

Day 3 – Wednesday 13th July

Despite having just two days of the meeting left yet three days of work to do, discussions on the UK’s governance proposal lasted the whole day.

Each proposed change was picked apart, particularly by Iceland, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. One of the key points of contention was the proposal that payments of membership contributions must be by bank transfer only and not by cash. This simple, best practice payment rule would go a long way to counter the accusations of corruption which have dominated the IWC in recent years.

Frustration ruled and by lunchtime it was agreed that a small group of the most vocal speakers of the day, plus the UK, would meet to hammer out an agreement. Three hours later, the meeting resumed and a revised document was presented to the meeting.

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Finally, agreement was reached and the revised proposal was adopted by consensus. Some compromises had been made and, notably, the attempt to improve IWC observer participation through the Rules was withdrawn early on in the meeting. But it was still a hugely important move forward for the IWC and something that even at the start of the day seemed unlikely to be resolved.

One of the key changes for us is that, at last, the Scientific Committee report will be made available on the IWC’s website within 14 days of the conclusion of the Scientific Committee meeting. Up until now, we have not been allowed to see the report until 10am on the first day of the Commission meeting. At this point, most of the Resolutions and other decision texts are already in play, we are run off our feet trying to talk to delegates and circulate our reports and it’s impossible to read and absorb a report which is usually around 100 pages long.

Despite the pain, the IWC has made a good decision with this package of changes to the Rules of Procedure. EIA pays tribute to the UK delegation and, in particular, to Jolyon Thompson who stewarded the proposal through with eloquence and determination.

At 6.50pm in the evening of day three we started to get on with the substantive issues to be discussed, quickly finishing the Finance and Admin report and starting to look at aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is ongoing as I write … it will be a long night.

 ***

Day 2 – Tuesday 12th July

On Tuesday, the IWC discussed ‘financial and administrative matters’, which was actually a lot more interesting than you might think, and certainly crucial to the way the IWC carries out its work.

The biggest proposal on the table at this year’s meeting is one from the UK to improve the governance and effectiveness of operations of the IWC. Part of the proposal aims to bring in measures which can help eliminate the corruption that has allegedly been rife within the organisation and was highlighted by a Sunday Times exposé last year – for example, countries would no longer be able to pay their contributions in cash but would have to pay via “bank transfer from an account belonging to the Contracting Government or to a state institution of that Government”.

IWC held in Jersey this year. Credit EIAIn addition, this proposal would ensure key documents such as the Scientific Committee report are available to observers, and that decisions are swiftly translated and available in the other two working languages of the Commission (French and Spanish).

The most controversial aspect of the UK proposal, however, was to do with the participation of observers (including NGOs such as EIA) in the IWC. For years, observers have had no speaking rights at the IWC, even though the Rules of Procedure actually allow us to speak. In recent years, there has been some attempt to improve this situation, with NGOs given a half-hour to present a limited number of views, usually at the end of the meeting when all the decisions have been taken. As you can imagine, with many conservation NGOs attending the IWC it has been a taxing and time-consuming task just to agree which NGOs can speak and on which issues. This initiative from the UK would bring the IWC up to some really basic standards which are already common practice in many multilateral environmental agreements.

UK Minister Richard Beynon was on hand to appeal to IWC member governments to adopt the proposals, which are not anti- or pro-whaling but a bare minimum required to show the world that the IWC continues to be a functional and effective body. In order to bring Denmark (part of the European Union, but basically representing the whaling interests of the Faroes & Greenland), the UK dropped the section on observer participation so the proposal could be presented by the EU group as a whole.

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Despite these efforts to compromise, Saint Kitts & Nevis, the Russian Federation and other pro-whaling delegations successfully disrupted proceedings, which forced a private meeting of Commissioners to be held near the end of the day. The meeting then closed, with the promise of a revised proposal, from the UK, to be discussed first thing on Wednesday morning.

 ***

Day 1 – Monday 11th July

EIA is at the International Whaling Commission’s Annual Meeting taking place in Jersey this week. We were here all last week attending working group meetings (which discuss some of the substantive detail of many issues relating to whales) but now it is time for the decisions and politics.

Two really good things happened today – and I can honestly say I can’t recall that happening on the first day of an IWC meeting for many years. First, South African Commissioner Herman Oosthuizen agreed to chair the meeting. We were left without a Chair or Vice-Chair for the Commission at the end of last year’s meeting, and clearly this is a huge problem if the IWC is to continue developing its key role in the global management and conservation of whales and other cetaceans. Herman is greatly respected, has wide experience of the IWC and is open to fair and constructive participation by NGOs, unlike some delegates here who would rather conduct their business behind closed doors.

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

The second surprise was when we came to discussion of the Scientific Committee’s deliberations on the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) catch limits for North Atlantic fin whale. Now the Scientific Committee has not actually been asked to calculate catch limits because, as we all know, there is a ban on commercial whaling. However, since Iceland is pursuing unilateral rogue whaling of fin and minke whales, the Scientific Committee has been looking at which variants of the RMP would be appropriate to be able to provide advice on the sustainability of catches. Since 2010, the Scientific Committee has been clear in its advice that a catch of 46 fin whales is the currently acceptable catch limit – compare this to Iceland’s 2009 and 2010 catches of fin whales, which were 125 and 148 fin whales respectively. Despite this, last year no countries drew attention to the fact that Iceland’s catch was clearly unsustainable because all countries (other than Iceland) were attempting to avoid controversial issues in the hope that the IWC could agree a compromise whaling deal which would somehow satisfy both anti- and pro-whaling countries.

With the compromise whaling proposal dead in the water, it was refreshing to hear a number of countries speak eloquently in support of precautionary science in the conservation of whales. Monaco kicked off the debate by drawing attention to the fact that Iceland’s catches of fin whales are much higher than sustainable limits, and was supported by the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, US and Australia. The New Zealand Commissioner called Iceland’s whaling as risky, inappropriate and unlawful.

Renegade Whaling. Image Credit Jonas FreydalEIA came to the IWC with a new report on Iceland’s whaling and trade in whale products, determined to ensure that the IWC member countries recognise and respond to Iceland’s whaling, so this was a great start to the meeting and we’ll continue to lobby countries to pressure Iceland.

Other issues covered included a UK proposal to progress work on welfare and ethics. It was disappointing that Norway refused to participate but the work will go forward nonetheless and the UK will be working hard to try to persuade Norway and other whaling nations to contribute in the future.

The meeting started with a welcoming address from the Government of Jersey and it is a pleasure to stay on this beautiful island (even though we are basically sitting in a cave most of the time). Somehow Jersey’s eccentricities well suit the slightly eccentric IWC that continues to protect hundreds of thousands of great whales with the international ban on commercial whaling.

Twenty-five years after its implementation, the ongoing ban on whaling is still vital to the conservation of whales and we will continue to work hard every year to ensure it is maintained and to improve the effectiveness of the IWC.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Senior Campaigner

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Today our blog celebrates its first birthday!!

A year ago this very day I wrote the very first, very humble, blog post.

The birth of the blog owes much of its final impetus to Michael Ambjorn and ultimately Ogilvy & Mather’s Idea Shop. It seems like a long time ago now but the enthusiasm from this team of marketing professionals, from our 45 minutes session in East London, was insatiable. We had good content and we needed to share it.

Since then, it’s been a steep learning curve and I’m working out what works and what doesn’t. Yes, there’s been the odd 303 redirects, a few typos and some broken links but overall, 12 months on, it has grown into something that the whole organisation is really proud of.

Every EIA campaigner has now contributed to the blog, from each of our campaigns. So you, as the reader, can now get first-hand information on what it’s like at EIA, what it’s like out in the field, gather expert opinions as well as tap into more personal reflections on the topics EIA works on (as well as interesting tangents!)

EIA HQ

We’ve also encouraged those more behind the scenes to step up to their e-literary debut; Charlotte Davies, our intelligence analyst has taken a particular shine to our blog and written some fantastic posts. Our comms and fundraising team had have time in the e-limelight as well as our volunteers, who donate their time so enthusiastically thoroughly deserving airtime.

Pangolin. S Megan 2007 - WikiMedia CommonsAnd thus, we have religiously published our weekly blog for the last 52 weeks (perhaps a few exceptions for national holidays) on a whole host of topics; from tigers to rhinos, from our community projects in Tanzania to whaling in the Faroe Islands and gala dinners to pangolins! An unexpected bonus is that the blog content fuels our monthly emails which have, in turn, dramatically improved internal communication and encouraged more cross-campaign dialogue.

More than that, the expert opinion of campaigners is being picked up by other groups and organizations, such as REDD monitor and Global Tiger Initiative on blogs and Computer Aid, Client Earth and others on Twitter; so our outreach exponentially increases.

But it’s not just about churning content out; it’s about building a dialogue as well. We are keen to hear your feedback and have made every attempt to respond to comments written by you. We are only human however, and apologise if some have slipped through the net. Please keep your comments coming; what would you like to see improved? Do you have a favourite blog post? What would you like to hear more of?

What are the stats?

• 68 blog posts

• 154 comments

• 15,482 visits

Technical Paragraph – for the geek within

Sticky Content generously donated places on their course for many of our campaigners, a huge thank you to them. They highlighted the important differences between writing for print and the web; tough lessons including “don’t expect people to read all your content” and “write your copy, halve it and then halve it again”.

Michael Ambjorn at Eurocomm

Michael Ambjorn at Eurocomm

Following a communications conference in Italy, there have been some subtle differences to the blog; improved Search Engine Optimisation, shameless promotion, more links and pingbacks, using alt.text and keywords, all of which has helped build a strategy to use the blog more effectively and to help make sure we are findable on Google. We’re not there yet but have made some great improvements. A huge thank you to Steve Seager and Michael Gaasterland on Twitter

The next 12 months

With all going well, we will have the new EIA website up and running soon (I don’t want to jinx the date!) and this will see the blog fully integrated into the website. It’s an exciting time for EIA comms as we finally make that leap into Web 2.0. The blog and our other social media platforms will become an integral part of the website and we will continue to produce fantastic content as our campaigners get more into the swing of blogging.

Conclusion

Watch this space.

Afterword

A few days ago I bumped into Ruth Jamieson from Ogilvy at the latest Ideas Shop at Marketing Week Live and I see Michael Ambjorn at IABC events; it’s great to keep in touch with the people that took the time to dispense small pearls of wisdom to us. Those pearls, 12 months on, have had such a huge impact on how we communicate here at EIA, so thank you to all those who have made it possible.

Sophia Cheng

Sophia Cheng

Fundraising & Communications Officer

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As regular visitors to this blog will be aware, as part of our Global Environment Campaign, EIA has been fighting an ongoing battle against the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances for many years now.

An unfortunate – yet avoidable – consequence of the global phase out of first CFCs, and now HCFCs, black market trade in ODS has the potential to wreak havoc on the ozone layer. It is the Achilles heel of the Montreal Protocol – the most successful environmental treaty to date – and as such, requires urgent and decisive action.

Our illegal trade investigations have taken us to many far-flung destinations over the years. Few, however as far-flung as Mongolia, a name, which for me at least, had always been endowed with a certain mystique.

Mongolian gers. Credit EIA

Mongolian gers. Credit EIA

However, when it comes to tackling ozone depletion, no country is too remote, which is how, a couple of weeks ago, EIA came to co-host the Summit with the Private Sector on Trade in Ozone Depleting Substances with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Ulaanbaatar.

It seemed fitting that an ozone summit should take place in Mongolia, Land of the Blue Sky, where rather than being an abstraction, the “environment” is central to the country’s national identity. Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia has been subject to a range of foreign influences (as the euphemism goes) over the years – and indeed conquered vast tracts of Central Asia and Europe itself back in the heyday of Genghis Khan.

The gobi desert from the Trans-Siberian railway that connects Moscow with Beijing.

The gobi desert from the Trans-Siberian railway that connects Moscow with Beijing.

Now an independent and fully fledged democracy, Mongolia has been behind some novel initiatives in recent years, including the convening of a Cabinet Meeting on Climate Change, which was held in the Gobi Desert in December 2010. Although a sparsely populated country, deforestation, overgrazing and the depletion of water resources are leading to the expansion of the Gobi at a rapid rate of knots, imperilling the livelihoods of the herders, who still make up around a third of the population. Air pollution is also a huge problem in cities, where coal and wood-burning stoves are used by a majority of the population for heating and cooking. In addition to this, plentiful supplies of raw materials including coal, copper, tungsten, phosphates, nickel, zinc, fluorspar, gold and silver make it an Eldorado for mining companies.

Mongolian customs official checking ODS canister for purity. Credit EIA.

Mongolian customs official checking ODS canister for purity. Credit EIA.

While Mongolia has no domestic production of ozone depleting substances to speak of, its customs officials are well versed in the challenges posed by illegal trade in ODS – as were the many other national officials present at the Summit, hailing from as far afield as Thailand, Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Along with representatives from multinational chemical manufacturers, and international organisations including UNIDO and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), they spent three days discussing how to avert a massive spike in illegal ODS trade as developed and developing countries implement their HCFC phase out – whose differential nature (developed countries are on schedule for a total phase-out by 2020, developing countries have until 2030) only increases the risks of part of the market going underground. The resulting “UB 2.0 Declaration” lists concrete actions to help stamp out illegal trade and will be available online shortly. EIA and UNEP will also be bringing out a Risk Assessment of Illegal Trade in HCFCs within the next few weeks – watch this space for details on both of those.

As mentioned above, illegal trade has been a problem for as long as initiatives to rid the planet of ozone depleting chemicals have existed. At one point, a staggering 20% of trade in CFCs was estimated to be illegal. That’s a sobering figure, but what’s even more sobering is the realisation that with the HCFC phase-out, the problem could turn out to be considerably worse. This is mainly because of the comparatively more rapid pre-baseline increase in developing countries’ consumption of HCFCs, which is currently growing at 15% per annum.

In the past few years, we’ve seen increasing incidences of HCFC smuggling related to the developed country phase out, including high-profile seizures in Florida and evidence of criminal activity in Southern Europe, where it is estimated that up to 10 small ships a day are ferrying small consignments of HCFCs between ports bordering the EU where trade controls are not in place, and ports within the EU where import of virgin HCFC is banned.

Professor Adyasuren Tsokhio, Director of Mongolia’s National Ozone Authority and Mr. Batsuuri Nantsag, State Secretary of Nature, Environment and Tourism listen to Mr. Atul Bagai Senior Regional Coordinator United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Credit EIA

Professor Adyasuren Tsokhio, Director of Mongolia’s National Ozone Authority and Mr. Batsuuri Nantsag, State Secretary of Nature, Environment and Tourism listen to Mr. Atul Bagai Senior Regional Coordinator United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Credit EIA

Not to paint too bleak a picture, there are some great initiatives out there to help stem the flood of illegal ODS trade. One of these – the eccentrically-named “Project Sky Hole Patching II” – deserves a special mention. Originally an initiative of a group of Asia Pacific countries, it led to a total of 26 seizures, amounting to 640 tonnes of ODS and over 600 pieces of equipment containing ODS, over a 6-month period in 2010. Improved cooperation between customs authorities, notably through the “informal prior and informed consent” – or iPIC – system has also proved its worth over the years. However, even ground-breaking initiatives such as these look paltry in the face of a potential tidal wave of illegal ODS trade as the HCFC phase out begins to take hold. It’s time to face up to the fact that illegal trade exists and that we need to do something about it. Fast.

Natasha Hurley

Global Environment Campaigner

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We always need connections…paperwork not important once you have connections, paperwork not important, they are only on paper…they can always be manipulated…”

- Singapore ozone-depleting substances (ODS) dealer

 When it comes to getting insights into what criminals think, EIA and our partners are in a pretty enviable position.

Our undercover investigators spend weeks at a time in the field, often in remote and dangerous places, rubbing shoulders with environmental criminals. Getting to know these people and their worlds. Gathering intelligence, developing leads, responding to opportunities and threats as they come up. Click here to read a previous blog by one of our investigators.

In the process, when our undercover investigators speak one-on-one with traders, create bonds, convince them of their authenticity…that in itself generates a wealth of information about how the illegal trade is conducted.

Who’s buying, who’s selling, what tricks to use to evade detection, and what the stakes are (or are not…) if you get caught.

 “…the government regulation will be avoided. Anyway, you are taking the small risk to earn big profits.”

- Chinese ODS import/exporter

Often, the information gained doesn’t just implicate the trader who’s spilling the beans. The web of complicity can extend to police contacts who should be enforcing the law – but instead tip off the traders before inspections take place; dodgy Customs contacts who’ll “facilitate” the safe passage of a shipment…even government officials have been directly implicated in the illegal trade.

Of course there are people who’ll shake their heads and say, “That’s a criminal you’re talking to. You can’t believe what they say!”

 “I think it’s better if you know who I am. I’m a law officer, I’m a policeman. Beside a policeman, I am also a businessman.”

- Policeman (and merbau smuggler) in Indonesia

 EIA uses specialist investigators. Cover is carefully planned, so it’s totally convincing.

Questions are open, so the traders talk of their own volition.

And verification is crucial. In presenting often explosive investigation findings, things have to be water-tight.

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I suppose that if you must conduct your business from the shadows, when you do find someone you trust, if might feel good to talk. From relief in shared complicity, from your ego being flattered, or to assure your new “customer” that they’re in safe hands – that you’re the only one to deal with, and you know your trade well.

Of course you’re not to know that this new “friend” is actually undercover EIA.

But it’s often precisely because these people are criminals that we should at least listen to what they say – take it as a starting point from where to investigate further. Whilst they can be excellent at describing their activities, they’ll often highlight the factors that make it all too easy for them to continue.

“…(Customs) need money also… all the people still need money. It goes up to the top.”

- Merbau dealer in Indonesia

It’s been said before, but anyway…crime is good at self-preservation. A criminal’s response to enforcement activity (like the interception of cargo) will be to adapt, necessarily at the drop of a hat. What was true of smuggling methods a year ago may since have been abandoned in favour of a different way of doing things. Likewise, as we’ve shown, the end markets can change. For investigators, rather than labouring under misconceptions and coming up short, keeping up to date with these changes is essential.

And while stats can give you an overview and insights, they can’t paint a picture the way a trader does when he describes the “many hands” through which a tiger skin passes – from when it’s skinned from the carcass in India and travels thousands of miles north into China.

But if enforcement agencies don’t see the value in conducting covert operations and engaging traders, how is anyone – including policy makers – except the criminals to know how things really work?

In 2009, traders voiced anticipation at the forthcoming Chinese Year of the Tiger: more demand for tiger skin = higher profits. Tasteless, frightening, but EIA listened. With the species already on the brink, identifying additional, future threats is crucial.

We recommend enforcement agencies speak to one another, share information, and collaborate – both domestically and internationally.

But enforcement agencies might also speak to criminals. Not only when a suspect is in custody, but proactively go out into the field, task covert investigations, dig deep, and hear what these people have to say. In terms of understanding the illegal trade – and saving species – the information gained can be gold dust.

The same information can also, and probably will, reveal uncomfortable truths. But if those truths are too hard to face, or believed to be insurmountable…well then forests, tigers, elephants – all of us – might as well accept defeat.

Charlotte Davies, Intelligence Analyst

Charlotte Davies

Intelligence Analyst

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Did you get to see last night’s Panorama, Track my Trash? What did you think? We would love to hear your feedback.

If you missed it you can catch up on BBC iplayer here.

System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

It’s times like this that make this job really worthwhile. I’ve been amazed by the reactions of the public and industry to EIA’s report “System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste” and last night’s Panorama. I think the programme did a great job of explaining this huge problem and our responsibility as consumers to ensure that our old junk doesn’t end up poisoning children in developing countries. EIA was involved with the programme from its inception and I think it’s been a good example of successful collaboration.

But our work doesn’t stop here, now that our findings have been published we will follow up the investigation in order to push for real change in how the UK handles its electronic waste. We plan to engage with industry to encourage them to clean up their act, to work on improving the enforcement of existing regulations and to look into fixing the systematic failings that have led to the colossal environmental problem. We also waiting to see what the Environment Agency’s reaction to our work will be.

Read EWC’s response to our investigation, similarly South London Waste Partnership have also made a statement.

If you’re concerned about the fate of your e-waste here are a few tips and questions you ask:

  •  The biggest way to reduce the harmful impacts of e-waste is to reduce the amount of electronic goods we throw out. Before updating your laptop or mobile phone, please think about whether you really do need a new one, often we tend to get rid of perfectly functional electronic items just to keep up with the latest trends.
  • If you do have an old item that you want to get rid of try internet recycling networks like Freecycle.
  •  If you do have e-waste that you want to dispose of try to find out whether the company disposing of the goods or your local council recycling site audits the trail of all electronic goods left in their care.
  •  Some councils will contract reuse companies to repair and reuse items left at their recycling sites. EIA totally supports the reuse of electronic goods but our investigations showed that some reuse companies don’t test and repair broken TVs before exporting them. If your local council uses a reuse company the company should supply details of how many electronic goods they were able to repair and export and how many they had to send for recycling and the final destinations of all those electronic goods.
As consumers we have the biggest say of all, but we need to start speaking out.

This investigation took 18 months from start to finish and it’s expensive to get the quality of evidence EIA is renowned for.

If you want to help us to continue to tackle e-waste text EIAA11 £3 to 70070.

Fionnuala Walravens
Fin Walravens
Team Leader of the Global Environment Campaign
We’ve recieved lots of feedback following last night’s programme, here are just a few of your comments:
  • @Sarafino1: I work in the Recycling Industry but not electricals, so have to say shocked!
  • @NAbeyie_x:  I was rather surprised, I didn’t think something like that went on.. Its good to know
  • @EmilyvonR: I thought it was a depressing insight into what is going on but I wonder if people will now be put off from recycling…
  • @amiemiddleton: It was difficult to watch as some companies try to do the right thing and are held up at every stage by gov bodies!
  • @Crook3rs: Very good programme last night raising awareness of the illegal dumping of e-waste. Should be heightened as not something most people would be aware of ordinarily. Also very moving programme, highlighting the damage to the environment and health of people in the regions involved.
  • @ITSAmanda: I do so hope your report helps to make a positive difference. Will watch panorama 2nite on iplayer
  • @Hayleybowcock: Govt must do more to stop illegal eWaste exports
  • @Wonder_Woman16: Panorama was amazing very shocking!!! Can’t believe Croydon was mentioned.
  • Jackie: Good programme, I am sure most people will be shocked by this trade
  • Ralph: I have several items of electronic gear stored in the attic. What should I do with them?
  • Tom: I read about this in the Observer yesterday, and I have now also seen the Panorama programme. I live in Croydon so this report is of local relevance and I hope to take this to my local green party for further action.
  • Jeff: I would like to congratulate you on the recent investigation into the illegal export of e-waste.
  • Simon: Good work, EIA.

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