Earlier this month, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held the First Executive Level Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The Committee was created as the Environmental Crime Committee in 1992 to assist INTERPOL in building international connections crucial to slowing international environmental crime. It was designed to increase coordination between the 190 member nations of INTERPOL. The Committee is comprised of three working groups: the Wildlife Crime Working Group, the Pollution Crime Working Group, and the Fisheries Crime Working Group. The Executive Level meeting was held in conjunction with meetings for all three working groups and included over 300 attendees from governments, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations. The conference was intended as a forum for high level officials to discuss trends and violations of environmental law, environmental goals, possible solutions to these problems, and tools to fight international environmental crimes.
Most of the conference focused on wildlife crime and the ways to stop illegal trafficking of poached animals. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, noted an increase in poaching, associated trade, illegal logging, and illegal fishing practices, while emphasizing the importance of international cooperation in order to slow these activities. One of the largest concerns in poaching is the growing ivory trade which has greatly diminished the elephant and rhinoceros populations in Africa. The Wildlife Crime Working Group also addressed issues such as the trade of Asian large cats and the illegal poaching of bears. Finally, the Wildlife Crime Working Group conducted a closed section for government officials and intergovernmental representatives which was dedicated to INTERPOL notices and cooperation between countries to ensure that criminal networks at the heart of wildlife crime are identified, tracked, and prosecuted. The Executive Meeting concluded with a recommendation that efforts to stop wildlife crime be increased using a “follow the money” method in order to break down the criminal organizations responsible for the majority of these crimes.
The Fisheries Working Group addressed a variety of issues including ways to increase interception of fish which were caught illegally. The group studied Sierra Leone and Malawi, which have used fish farms and increased enforcement to slow illegal fishing which severely damaged local fisheries. The Pollution Working Group looked at the illegal transfer of waste across international borders, the improper disposal of electronic waste, forensics, ocean discharges, and American fuel standards systems among a variety of other topics. The projects of both of these working groups received little attention at the Executive Level meeting which instead remained focused upon wildlife crime.
One of the prevailing themes articulated by participants in all four meetings was that environmental crimes should be treated as “actual crimes.” Currently, violations of many regulations result in little more than fines which do little to deter offenders from continuing to pursue their extremely lucrative illegal actions. Many participants, including the Director for International Affairs of the Europeans Commission’s Environment Directorate-General and the Executive Director of Conservation for the World Wildlife Federation, emphasized the need for these crimes to be treated as law enforcement issues rather than merely as conservation issues. The Executive Level meeting recommended that members identify action points to suppress environmental crime, consider the possibility of establishing national environmental security task forces (NESTs), consider an increase in informational sharing between countries, and increase public knowledge about the commission of environmental crimes. The committee closed by emphasizing the need for increased communication between countries regarding environmental crime. The individual objectives addressed by the conferences will continue to be worked on by a variety of more specialized international coalitions in the months ahead.