Tightening the Net: Towards a Global Legal Framework on Transnational Organized Environmental Crime

Posted on 13 April 2015

WWF and Global Initiative report on gaps in global legal architecture
Transnational organized environmental crime constitutes a global and escalating threat.
It allows international networks of individuals and corporations to thrive and eventually disturb not only biodiversity but also the global economy and security. In addition to severe environmental consequences, the laundered money generated by such activities disrupts the world’s economies, fostering corruption and challenging political stability.
Emblematic of the dark side of globalization, organized criminal groups engage in highly profitable illicit markets such as illegal trade in protected species of fauna and flora, illegal logging and fishing, unlawful transportation and dumping of hazardous waste, and illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances.
An urgent need to reflect on current global legal frameworks
While the international community increasingly acknowledges the seriousness of the issue and multiple mechanisms and tools are being used to combat it, current strategies remain insufficient to tackle this escalating problem.
This global and complex challenge can only be addressed via a holistic approach involving different stakeholders at multiple levels, including local communities, and fostering efforts on several fronts including political commitment, law enforcement, prevention and cultural change through education (especially to curb demand for wildlife products).
Without losing sight of this broad context, this report by the Gobal Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and WWF focuses on a specific aspect: the analysis of the current legal approaches and their improvement.
Presenting a global legal review, this report analyses the international legal frameworks currently available to combat transnational organized environmental crime, and explores potential ways to strengthen the current situation. Indeed, extant legal tools appear as a loose net of international, national and local laws that often fail to work together efficiently. Inconsistencies and remaining loopholes create havens for organized criminal groups and transit hubs for their illicit activities.
The main legal weakness is the fact that international treaties still fail to address environmental crime as a form of transnational organized crime. Instead, they either focus on conservation or international trade aspects.
The analysis highlights that the only global treaty that could provide the needed criminal perspective is the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). However, many forms of environmental crime fall outside its scope because its application relies on national laws.
Indeed, UNTOC is only applicable if national laws reach the UNTOC application threshold (which is the establishment by national laws of a maximum criminal penalty of at least four years of imprisonment) otherwise it is not applicable. Unfortunately many countries do not yet criminalize the activities that constitute forms of transnational organized environmental crime, they often prohibit them as illegal or unlawful but it is not the same as legally defining them as criminal.
In addition, where the criminal approach does exist, the UNTOC application threshold is not always reached. These observations are a starting point for a much needed discussion on the potential improvement of global legal frameworks. This report also raises the possibility of a new international legal framework dedicated to transnational organized environmental crime.
Tightening the Net: Towards a Global Legal Framework on Transnational Organized Environmental Crime
© Global Initiative & WWF