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Environmental Crimes

UNICRI considers environmental crime, including its links with other forms of crime, a serious and growing danger for development, global stability and international security.

Since 1991, UNICRI has combated crimes against the environment and related emerging threats through applied research, awareness, and capacity-building initiatives. Today, countering environmental crime is an emerging priority for UNICRI work.

Transnational threat of Environmental Crimes

Environmental crimes encompass a broad list of illicit activities, including illegal trade in wildlife; smuggling of ozone-depleting substances (ODS); illicit trade of hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing; and illegal logging and trade in timber. On one side, environmental crimes are increasingly affecting the quality of air, water and soil, threatening the survival of species and causing uncontrollable disasters. On the other, environmental crimes also impose a security and safety threat to a large number of people and have a significant negative impact on development and rule of law. Despite these issues, environmental crimes often fail to prompt the appropriate governmental response. Often perceived as ‘victimless’ and incidental crimes, environmental crimes frequently rank low on the law enforcement priority list, and are commonly punished with administrative sanctions, themselves often unclear and low.

The involvement of organized criminal groups acting across borders is one of many factors that have favoured the considerable expansion of environmental crimes in recent years. Led by vast financial gains and facilitated by a low risk of detection and scarce conviction rates, criminal networks and organized criminal groups are becoming increasingly interested in such illicit transnational activities. These phenomena fuel corruption and money-laundering, and undermine the rule of law, ultimately affecting the public twice: first, by putting at risk citizens’ health and safety; and second, by diverting resources that would otherwise be allocated to services other than crime.

The level of organization needed for these crimes indicates a link with other serious offences, including theft, fraud, corruption, drugs and human trafficking, counterfeiting, firearms smuggling, and money laundering, several of which have been substantiated by investigations. Environmental crimes therefore today represent an emerging form of transnational organized crime requiring more in-depth analysis and better-coordinated responses at national, regional and international levels.

Role of UNICRI in supporting Member States and the International Community in preventing and countering Environmental Crimes

UNICRI has been actively involved in the field of environmental crime and justice research and training since 1991, issuing various publications on the topic. The first research projects were aimed at environmental law, especially exploring the limits and potentials of applying criminal law in crimes related to environment. In June 1998, UNICRI organised in Rome a seminar on International Environmental Conventions and the Administration of Criminal Law. Since then, UNICRI has focused on the involvement of organized criminal groups in environmental crime.

UNICRI also has built a strong international network of experts from major international organisations active in the field, including international and national NGOs as well as well-known researchers from academia.

To increase awareness of the threat of environmental crime, UNICRI contributed to the organization of a conference in Rome in December 2011 entitled “Illicit Trafficking in Waste: A Global Emergency”, with the participation of the Ministry of the Environment of Italy, parliamentarians, international partners such as the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), and stakeholders involved in countering trafficking in and dumping of toxic waste. To enhance understanding of the dynamics of environmental crime, the Institute is currently implementing a research and data collection project in the domain of environmental crime, with a specific focus on the dumping of illegal waste and hazardous materials, including e-waste, and its relation with organized crime. The research methodology follows the one applied by the Institute with success in other fields related to organised crime (such as counterfeiting, for example), and can be utilised to investigate different areas of environmental crime in the future.

In partnership with several research institutes, civil society organizations, and municipalities, UNICRI has launched a process for consultation at the international level on the involvement of organized crime in environmental crime, with a view to identifying a set of recommendations for more effective policies and action at the national, regional and international levels. To that end, the Institute, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, has organized an international conference in Italy on 29 and 30 October 2012.

In preparation for the Conference, the Institute has carried out preliminary in-depth data collection and analysis of cases involving trafficking in and dumping of toxic and e-waste.

In parallel, UNICRI has elaborated a number of applied-research project proposals covering different aspects of environmental crime aimed at shedding light on aspects not yet fully explored by the international community, including the intersection between counterfeiting and waste management or transnational environmental crime and corruption. In addition, another set of proposed activities looks at environmental crime from a multi-sectorial perspective, targeted at exploring the dimension and scope of environmental crime in Europe as well as proposing a set of tools and instruments to assess and monitor environmental crime across the region.

UNICRI major activities:

UNICRI International Conference on Environmental Crime - Convening key IGOs, NGOs, major LEAs, academia and scholars (October 2012, Rome - Italy).

Research - Data collection and mapping of illicit trafficking cases of waste, analysis of international legislation and relevant application, and identification of risk factors linked to organized crime.

Outreach activities – Conferences, capacity building for law enforcement, awareness workshops, and seminars for general public.

Publications: Environmental Crime Bibliography

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