What is Environmental Crime?

Environmental crime is an illegal act either from carelessness or deliberation which directly harms the environment.

The Australian Institute of Criminology states that international environmental controls are set down in over 200 Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs)  that dictate international obligations regarding the protection of biodiversity, the marine environment and the atmosphere, sustainable development, regulation on the use of chemicals and transfer and disposal of waste

International bodies such as the Interpol and United Nations recognize the following as environmental crimes:

  1.  Illegal wildlife trade of endangered species (1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
  2. smuggling of substances that deplete the ozone layer (1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer)
  3. Illegal dumping and trade of hazardous waste (1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-Boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal)
  4. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)
  5. Illegal logging and trade of stolen timber (1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

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 first began enforcing environmental crime laws in 1992.

International expectations and sovereign interests and standards reflect national controls against environmental crimes. There are more than 150 statues and associated regulations regarding environmental conservation, management and protection currently in Australia divided between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. 

There exists a number of legislation directed to the environment at the state and territory level having each jurisdiction enacted to its own environment protection statute on the prevention and containment of air, water, and soil polution and illegal waste transfer & disposal. All but land-locked Australian Capital Territory observes the MARPOL and London Conventions preventing the pollution of marine waters through individual statutes.

Additional statutes that target specific group of pollutants have been introduced in a few jurisdictions which have separate acts of controlling the use of the following:

  • environmentally hazardous chemicals (Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985 (NSW))
  • pesticides (Pesticides Act 1999 (NSW))
  • ozone depleting substances (Ozone Protection Act 1989 (NSW); Ozone Protection Act 1996 (NT))
  • guidelines for the clean-up of contaminated land (Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 (NSW); Contaminated Sites Act 2003 (WA))