POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Environmental Crime

Published Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Environmental crime is generally used to describe any illegal activity that harms the environment. It can also have serious human health and social impacts. This POSTnote outlines the different types of environmental crime and options for tackling them.

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The European Commission defines environmental crime as “acts that breach environmental legislation and cause significant harm or risk to the environment and human health”. However, there is no universally agreed definition. It has been linked to other types of serious crime, including the drugs and arms trade, human trafficking, and, according to Interpol, the funding of terrorist organisations. Environmental crimes are often considered a low priority by governments, as effects are generally indirect. Europol has identified two primary categories of environmental crime in Europe:

  • Waste crime, which covers improper disposal of waste in breach of national or international law.
  • Wildlife crime, which covers harm to wildlife within that country, as well as the illegal wildlife trade, which is any trade in prohibited wildlife or plant material.

Environmental crime also incorporates illegal resource extraction - including fishing - pollution, and fraud around sustainability and carbon trading permits. Other crimes may be more significant outside of the EU. UK law on aspects of both of these crimes is derived from transnational treaties that are written into EU law. Wildlife and waste crime are the focus of this POSTnote.

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Environmental crime undermines the ability of governments to manage their resources.
  • The two main crime types in Europe are waste and wildlife crime, which are high profit and low risk for criminals.
  • Measures to address environmental crime are under resourced in comparison to other types of crimes worldwide.
  • Preventing and prosecuting environmental crimes can be challenging because of difficulties in detection, law enforcement, and prosecution.
  • It is currently unclear whether the UK will transpose relevant EU legislation into UK law after Brexit, or simply become a signatory of the related international treaties.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Professor Richard MacRory, UCL*
  • Daniel Challender, IUCN Pangolin specialist group *
  • Fiona Underwood, University of Reading *
  • Gareth Enticott, Cardiff University*
  • Alison Hoare, Chatham House
  • Andrew Plumptre, WCS
  • Andrew Lemieux, NSCR*
  • Joanna Hill, UCL
  • Ray Purdy, Space Evidence*
  • Lisa Tompson, UCL
  • Rosaleen Duffy, University of Sheffield*
  • Lorraine Elliot, ANU
  • Tanya Wyatt, Northumbria University*
  • Jim Baird, Glagow Caledonian University
  • Davyth Stewart – Interpol *
  • Elizabeth Mrema – UNEP
  • Roux Raath, WCO
  • Martin Sims, Chief Inspector, NWCU *
  • Carl Brunch INECE
  • Miroslav Angelov, European Commission*
  • David Read, DEFRA*
  • Mark Moseley, MET police*
  • Paul Ballinger, DEFRA*
  • Juliette Young, CEH
  • Colin Church, CIWM*
  • Werner Gowitzke, Europol*
  • Laith Yaseen, EA
  • Matthew Markus, Pembient
  • Madelon Willemsen, TRAFFIC
  • Sam Corp, ESA*
  • Nicola Cunningham, EA*
  • Bob Mead, EA*
  • Neil Douglas, RSPB*
  • Bob Elliot, RSPB

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0547

Authors: Jonathan Wentworth; Daniella Rabaiotti

Topics: Animal welfare, Biodiversity, Crime, Environmental protection, Nature conservation, Terrorism, Waste management, Wildlife

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