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Growth in environmental crime calls for an expansion in research

Environmental crime, typified by illegal trade in animals or animal parts, or in hazardous waste, is one of the most widespread forms of crime in the world today. More research is needed to increase our knowledge of the social and economic consequences.

Organised environmental crime on a global scale is attracting increasing attention from international bodies such as the UN and the EU. Environmental crime is an act that contravenes environmental legislation and which harms the environment or is detrimental to human health. The financial gains to be made from, for example, illegal trade in animal parts are large and new markets are constantly emerging via the Internet. One type of environmental crime that is on the increase is typified by the trade in carbon dioxide emission permits, so-called carbon credits, and large-scale corruption in the water sector. The export of e‑waste, i.e. scrap or discarded electrical or electronic items, to developing countries, illegal over-fishing, species protection violations and illegal logging are all growing at an alarming rate.

- While illegal trade both drives and finances conflicts, for example through the provision of financial support for militias and terrorist activities, only a small part of the gains from these illegal activities actually reach the local population, thus hindering the progress of sustainable development in the region concerned, says Birgitta Liljedahl, a senior analyst at FOI.

Both Sweden and the EU are feeling the effect of the increasing extent of environmental crime. This escalation in criminality increases its importance in the field of conflicts, terrorism and the arms trade. Where such activities take place in areas already in conflict or crisis, they entail a high risk of making an unconscious contribution, directly or indirectly, to the complex environmental crime economy. Corruption, for example, often involves an indirect link to the environmental crime economy. There is a pressing need to gain a better understanding of the links between the transnational illegal markets, organised crime and conflicts. This need has been highlighted by a number of bodies including the Swedish Police, Interpol, the UN Secretary General and the European Union.

One tool that is operational today is the Environmental Intelligence Service. Environmental intelligence can provide early indications of developments relating to environmental crime. Techniques used by environmental intelligence analysts in the course of their work include, for example, satellite image interpretation and geographic information systems.

- More research in this area is needed. There are still gaps in our knowledge where the linkages between environmental crime, organised crime, terrorism and conflicts are concerned. We need to carry out research into the mechanisms behind criminality and to develop methods of speeding up the detection and prevention of environmental crime, including models for calculating the hidden costs of environmental crime, says Annica Waleij, a senior analyst at FOI.

FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Swedish Defence Research Agency
SE-164 90 Stockholm

Phone +46 8 555 030 00
Fax +46 8 555 031 00

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