Fighting environmental crime


In just a few years, environmental crime has become one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities. Extremely lucrative and with low risks, it reportedly generates between $110 and 281 billion a year.

Environmental crime is a growing threat to the environment, biodiversity and public health but also to international security.
It contributes to tensions in societies and is often linked to other types of crime that it fuels (criminal or terrorist financing, corruption and money laundering, murders).

In conflict zones, armed criminal organizations and terrorists are increasingly involved in these types of trafficking, as highlighted in INTERPOL’s recent reports (according to the 2018 World Atlas of Illicit Flows report, 38% of illicit resources of these groups are linked to such activities).

All countries in the world are affected, including countries of origin, transit and destination. Yet, environmental crime is still not very present in national legislation. Moreover, law enforcement officers are rarely have specific training. That is why police cooperation and legislation harmonization mechanisms have been introduced to identify and punish environmental criminals more effectively.

What is environmental crime?

The expression “environmental crime” means all the illegal activities that harm the environment and benefit certain individuals, groups and/or companies.
Although legal definitions vary according to the countries, five categories of environmental crime have been identified and are recognized by the United Nations Environment Assembly: - illegal trade in wildlife, - illegal logging, - illegal fishing, - dumping and illegal trade of dangerous and toxic substances and waste, - mining and illegal trade of minerals.

Action at European level

For the last decade, Europe has had a criminal framework for environmental protection. It is based on a major text, Directive 2008/99, which sets out the provisions of European environmental law, the violation of which is a punishable criminal offence by the Member States. It was rounded out in 2009 by a directive on ship-source pollution that introduces penalties and minimum levels of intentional maritime pollution that should be considered criminal offences by Member States.

France cooperates with Eurojust, which provides assistance to Member States in environmental crime matters when punishable acts take place in two or more Member States.

Under its Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2022, France recalled its involvement in efforts to fight environmental crime. Participants at the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law: A European Challenge Conference, held in Marseille from 17 to 18 May 2022, took stock of the phenomenon in Europe along with judicial cooperation problems to enhance work to revise the 2008 Directive.

The Office Central de Lutte contre les Atteintes à l’Environnement et à la Santé Publique, a major partner in the fight against environmental crime.

The Office Central de Lutte contre les Atteintes à l’Environnement et à la Santé Publique (OCLAESP) is an inter-ministerial structure that was created in 2004. Its role is to:

  • Analyse the phenomena of environmental crime,
  • Coordinate investigations in this area and drive international cooperation with tangible actions (training, processing police cooperation requests).
    It draws on a network of 350 specialized law enforcement officers working in the field and provides training for them.

OCLAESP is a leading organization in international cooperation and the French point of contact with EUROPOL, INTERPOL and third countries. It helps to improve international and national systems for developing standards and best practices.
Since January 2018, it has ensured the leadership of the European platform EMPACT devoted to fighting environmental crime within Europol and on behalf of France.

Action at international level

In its bilateral relations with its main partners, France strives to better address environmental crime.

Strengthening international cooperation to fight environmental crime

France has been working to fight trafficking in wildlife through the Conference of the Parties to the CITES Convention and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress.

It also supports the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which brings together five intergovernmental organizations:

  • CITES Secretariat;
  • United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC);
  • World Bank;
  • World Customs Organization, as well as several coalitions working to stop poaching and illegal trade of wildlife, such as the African Elephant Fund and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP, UNEP-UNESCO).

Fostering international awareness

In 2022, the meeting of the G7 heads of delegation was an opportunity to recall the need to raise collective awareness on the danger of environmental crime, whether it be trafficking in wildlife, illegal logging, illegal fishing, illegal trafficking of waste or illegal mining.

Ensuring recognition of environmental crime as a global challenge

France is acting to strengthen international cooperation to fight all aspects of environmental crime. From 2019 to 2021, strong action helped to have environmental crime recognized as an emerging and concerning type of crime and a global challenge for the international community in the various bodies and conventions established under the aegis of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime.

Key stages

  • Two resolutions (negotiated upon France’s instigation within the framework of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2019 and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2020) established quasi-universal legal instruments that can now be used to prevent and fight environmental crime and strengthen international cooperation in the area.
  • In the Kyoto Declaration adopted in March 2021 at the 14th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Member States committed for the first time to adopt effective measures to prevent and fight crimes that harm the environment.
  • A comprehensive text on environmental crime that strengthens international cooperation and the UNODC’s mandate when it comes to research and analysis was adopted at the instigation of France in May 2021 at the 30th Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ).
  • A joint 2022-2026 action plan for France and the UNODC was signed in February 2022 to fight environmental crime. This joint action plan aims to finance actions in the field as well as knowledge products on this subject.

Fighting environmental crime networks with INTERPOL

The International Criminal Police Organization or INTERPOL is very active in the fight against environmental crime through four specialized working groups on:

  • Fishing,
  • Forests,
  • Pollution,
  • Wildlife.

These groups are working to dismantle environmental crime networks by providing national services with the tools and expertise they need.

Fighting money laundering related to trafficking in wildlife

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has launched an initiative to enhance knowledge of financial flows related to trafficking in wildlife. With France’s assistance, the FATF published in 2020 a report identifying avenues for strengthening the role of financial institutions in detecting suspicious flows and money laundering practices related to trafficking in wildlife and for boosting international cooperation between financial institutions in this area.

In 2021, a new FATF report was published on the laundering of money generated by environmental crimes ranging from illegal logging, mining and clearing to the trafficking of waste.

To find out more

Mise à jour : août 2022