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Development Account Projects

Building the capacity of customs officers to prevent illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities through the green customs initiative


Environmental crime is a multi-billion dollar business, earning national and international crime syndicates an estimated $22 billion to $31 billion annually from hazardous waste dumping, smuggling proscribed hazardous materials, and exploiting and trafficking protected natural resources. Illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities (such as ozone-depleting substances, toxic chemical products, hazardous wastes, endangered species and living-modified organisms) undermines the effectiveness of Multilateral Environmental Agreements and can deprive a country or region of natural resources, such as protected species. Many chemical substances that are smuggled can cause damage to fauna and flora, ecosystems and to human health, especially children's and women's health in poor developing countries. Legitimate businesses are damaged by the unfair competition from illegal trade, as smuggled goods can prevent the uptake of the legal alternatives.

Customs and border protection officers constitute the front line of every country's defence against transboundary illegal trade. While building the capacity of these officers is vital, the wide range of issues that customs officers must cover means that relevant training can be time-consuming, inconvenient and expensive when delivered separately. The objective of this project is to work together with Multilateral Environmental Agreement secretariats and other partner organizations to provide an integrated, self-sustaining and coordinated approach to combat this environmental challenge through capacity-building of customs officers in developing countries.

The project builds on experience from the Green Customs Initiative, which established a partnership of six Multilateral Environmental Agreement secretariats and four international organizations cooperating since 2004 to develop training materials such as the Green Customs Guide — which brings together the relevant customs-related information on the Multilateral Environmental Agreements. A number of regional and subregional awareness-raising and training workshops have been held in developing countries, with more detailed train-the-trainer national workshops held in selected locations. The successful delivery of these workshops and development of the information materials employs the existing infrastructure and capacity of the UNEP regional offices, in addition to those of the partner organizations.

The project will be executed by UNEP in joint collaboration with the partners to the Green Customs Initiative: World Customs Organization, INTERPOL, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the secretariats of relevant traderelated Multilateral Environmental Agreements.


To enhance the capacity of customs and border enforcement personnel to monitor and facilitate the legal trade and to prevent illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities.

Expected accomplishments:

  • Higher awareness within national customs administrations and other enforcement agencies of the trade components of Multilateral Environmental Agreements to prevent illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities
  • Closer coordination between customs officers and environmental officers on issues of trade in environmentally sensitive items — at the global, regional and bilateral levels
  • Sustainability of the Green Customs Initiative within national customs administrations

Implementation status:

Although in the early stages, the project activities are strengthening the capacity of customs and enforcement officers at the national and regional levels to enable them to better combat illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities. The main project activities are briefly described below.

A steering meeting for project partners was held on the 30 July 2010 at the United Nation Environment Programme  Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (UNEP DTIE) office in Paris, France. The participants were the Secretariats of the following conventions: Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm, CITES, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the World Customs Organization (WCO), and UNEP DTIE OzonAction. This meeting gave the Green Customs Secretariat and Partners the opportunity to discuss 2010-12 activities in the context of the UNDA funding and to create a workplan.       (Contributing to: General Tasks 0.2)

Three Customs training workshops have been held under the project during the reporting period:

  • Practical Customs Training Workshop organised in cooperation with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held in Panama City, 4-6 October 2010. This national training workshop was attended by front line customs officers of the Port Units based in Balboa Port and Manzanillo Port in Panama. Police and key officers at Customs HQ in Panama also participated.
  • SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) Green Customs Initiative workshop, organised in cooperation with SADC Secretariat and the Government of Malawi, held in Lilongwe, Malawi from 12- 14 October 2010. This sub-regional workshop was attended by customs and enforcement officers from the following SADC countries: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia.
  • UEMOA Countries (Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine) Green Customs Initiative workshop, organised in collaboration with the Government of Niger, was held in Niamey, Niger from 27 - 29 October 2010. This sub-regional workshop was attended by customs and enforcement officers from the following UEMOA countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote de Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

Agreement has been reached with the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm, CBD and OPCW Secretariats in cooperation with the WCO on the respective roles and expectations for developing e-learning modules for customs officers. The Secretariats have committed to prepare the course content, with WCO providing expert input and creating the modules. The contractual agreements to engage the WCO to create the e-learning modules are now awaiting signature.