Environmental crime

Environmental crime is an illegal act which directly harms the environment. International bodies such as the G8, Interpol, European Union, United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute have recognised the following environmental crimes:

These crimes are liable for prosecution. Interpol facilitates international police cooperation and assists its member countries in the effective enforcement of national and international environmental laws and treaties. Interpol began fighting environmental crime in 1992.[2]


International criminal gangs and militant groups profit from the plunder of natural resources and these illegal profits are soaring. Terrorism and even civil wars are consequences of environmental crime.[3] According to UNEP and Interpol, in June 2016 the value of environmental crime is 26 per cent larger than previous estimates, at US$91–258 billion, compared to US$70–213 billion in 2014, outstripping illegal trade in small arms.[4] More than half of this amount can be attributed to illegal logging and deforestation.

Prosecution by ICC

On September 2016 it was announced that the International Criminal Court located in The Hague will prosecute government and individuals for environmental crimes.[5] According to the Case Selection Criteria announced in Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation by ICC on 15 September 2016, the Office will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or that result in, "inter alia, the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land".[6]

Environmental crime by country

United States

Abandoned or little used areas are common dumping places in America -especially railroads. Over $10 million a year are used to remove illegal dumping from polluting towns and the environment. A small organization, CSXT Police Environment Crimes Unit, has been started to stop railroad dumping specifically. They have prosecuted over 1000 cases, however they lost over $90,000 in the first 90 days of investigating.

Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement was founded in 1982, there has been a steady increase in prosecuted environmental crimes.[7] This includes the prosecution of companies that have illegally dumped or caused oil spills. On a federal level, while the EPA oversees the investigations, the prosecutions are typically brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, through its Environmental Crimes Section, and/or through one of the 94 U.S. Attorney's Office across the country.


The effective enforcement of environmental laws is vital to any protection regimes that are designed to protect the environment. In the early days of environmental legislation, violations carried largely insignificant civil fines and penalties. Initial environmental laws and regulations had little or no deterrent effect on corporations, individuals, or governments to comply with environmental laws. Indeed, a major source of failure of US environmental protection legislation was the civil character of federal enforcement actions. Their chief sanction was fines, which many corporations took in stride as a cost of doing business. Environmental criminal law covers narrower ground. Its core consists of the criminal provisions of eight federal statutes passed mainly in the 1970s and amended in the last two decades.[8]

In many cases, particularly corporations found it more cost-effective to continue to pollute more than the law allowed and simply pay any associate fines if indeed the corporation was actually found and convicted of violating environmental laws or regulations. Perversely, corporations actually had a disincentive to comply with environmental laws or regulations as compliance generally raised their operational costs which meant that many corporations obeying the environmental laws, whether out of a sense of legal duty or public obligation, were disadvantaged and lost a competitive edge and consequently suffered in the marketplace to competitors who disregarded environmental laws and regulations. As a result of weak environmental legislation and continued adverse public opinion regarding the management of the environment, many governments established various environmental enforcement regimes that dramatically increased the legal powers of environmental investigators. The inclusion of criminal sanctions, significant increases in fines coupled with possible imprisonment of corporate officers changed the face of environmental law enforcement. For example, between 1983 and 1990 the US Department of Justice secured $57,358,404.00 in criminal penalties and obtained sentences of imprisonment for 55% of defendants charged with environmental offences.[9]

Enforcing environmental laws and regulations is an important ingredient in protecting the environment and reducing environmental harm. This is generally achieved by various environmental law enforcement agencies operating at an International, Regional, National, State and Local level. For instance, to some extent environmental law enforcement agencies operate only at an international level whereas others only operate at the local level. Furthermore, environmental law enforcement agencies utilise various enforcement methods to ensure compliance to environmental legislation. In some cases enforcement agencies rely on coercive powers to demand compliance to environmental laws, generally labelled “command and control” strategies, while others rely on conciliatory and educational strategies to persuade individuals, organisations and governments to comply with environmental laws and regulations. Moreover, it has increased the need for cooperation between different policing institutions.[9] Environmental law enforcement agencies and police services do not operate in a vacuum; the legislative instruments that political systems implement govern their activities and responsibilities within society. However, ostensibly it is the legislative instruments implemented by governments that determine many of the strategies utilised by police services in protecting the environment. Generally these International, Regional, National and State legislative instruments are designed to ensure industries, individuals, and governments comply with the various environmental obligations embedded in national statutes and laws. There are also international legal instruments and treaties that also affect the way that sovereign states deal with environmental issues .[9]

Environmental criminology

Environmental criminology examines the notions of crimes, offences and injurious behaviours against the environment and starts to examine the role that societies including corporations, governments and communities play in generating environmental harms. Criminology is now starting to recognise the impact of humans on the environment and how law enforcement agencies and the judiciary measure harm to the environment and attribute sanctions to the offenders.[10]

See also


  1. Banks, D., Davies, C., Gosling, J., Newman, J., Rice, M., Wadley, J., Walravens, F. (2008) Environmental Crime. A threat to our future. Environmental Investigation Agency pdf
  2. Interpol (2009) Environmental crime online
  3. Solheim, E., Need for global action, in: D+C 9 (2016), S. 46.
  4. "UNEP-INTERPOL Report: Value of Environmental Crime up 26%". 2016-06-04.
  5. Vidal, John; Bowcott, Owen (15 September 2016). "ICC widens remit to include environmental destruction cases". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  6. "POLICY PAPER ON CASE SELECTION AND PRIORITISATION" (PDF). icc-cpi.int. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  7. EPA Basic Information on criminal enforcement
  8. Environmental Crime: The Criminal Justice System's Role in Protecting the Environment By Yingyi Situ, David Emmons Published by Sage Publications, 1999 ISBN 0-7619-0036-5, ISBN 978-0-7619-0036-8
  9. 1 2 3 Tomkins, Kevin. Police, Law Enforcement and the Environment [online]. Current Issues in Criminal Justice; Volume 16, Issue 3; Mar 2005; 294-306
  10. White, R. 2003‘Environmental Issues and the Criminological Imagination’, Theoretical Criminology, 7(4): 483-506.

Further reading

External links

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