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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: