Fighting crimes that affect the environment to achieve sustainable development goals and safeguard our future  

By Olivia Swaak-Goldman

As a parent, I often wonder about the world my children will inherit. Will they grow up marveling at the same incredible wildlife we have today, or will those species be lost forever? This question drives my work at the Wildlife Justice Commission, where we are dedicated to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal networks that threaten our planet’s biodiversity. Imagining a future without lush rainforests, tigers, rhinos,sea turtles, sharks and many other species is devastating; we must act now to prevent their extinction.

This week, policymakers gather in New York City for the 2024 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council following the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit last year. Discussions will focus on reinforcing the agenda to achieve these goals through sustainable, resilient and innovative solutions.  I am proud to share the Wildlife Justice Commission’s perspectives and commitments on preventing and combatting crimes that affect the environment to achieve sustainable development goals and safeguard the future. 

Crimes that affect the environment, including wildlife crime, pose a grave threat to biodiversity and ecosystems (SDGs 14 & 15), hinder climate action (SDG 13), impact global health (SDG 3) and the rule of law (SDG 16), and undermine efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. Prioritising the prevention of transnational organised crime and addressing the corruption that enables them is essential for protecting people and the planet. These efforts are integral to tackling the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution. By addressing gaps in domestic and international legal frameworks and enhancing international cooperation in addressing these crimes, States can radically alter the playing field for crimes that affect the environment, ensuring that current and future generations have access to a safe and clean environment and a biodiverse planet.  

Long and complex global supply chains involving many countries are a common characteristic of many types of natural resources, irrespective of whether they were obtained legally or illegally. In the wildlife sector, for instance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’ data shows that all regions of the world are affected by illegal wildlife trade, and almost every country is implicated as a source, transit, or destination in the multitude of global illegal wildlife supply chains. 

Our findings at the Wildlife Justice Commission highlight the need for enhanced international cooperation and for a broader, more consistent use of advanced law enforcement methodologies applied in other types of transnational organised crime, such as drugs trafficking, to effectively tackle crimes that affect the environment. Additionally, it is key to prevent and combat the corruption that facilitates these crimes across global supply chains.  

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) offer robust frameworks for addressing crimes that affect the environment, and associated corruption. These conventions, while not solely focused on environmental crimes, provide essential tools and mechanisms that can be leveraged to combat these crimes effectively. They provide a framework for international cooperation and the use of advanced law enforcement methodologies typically applied in other types of transnational organised crime, including special investigative techniques (such as intelligence analysis and undercover operations) and financial investigations. “Partnerships for the goals” (SDG17) are also important in this sector, where multi-agency investigations and cross-sectoral collaborations are vital. At the Wildlife Justice Commission, we believe that governments, academia, NGOs, and the private sector must work together to tackle these complex challenges.  

Our policy recommendations for accelerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda during the second half of the implementation timeframe include:  

  • Giving continuous and increased prioritisation to crimes that affect the environment and implementing tools provided by international legislation, particularly the UNTOC and UNCAC, into practice at the domestic level. We particularly encourage States to increase the effective and more widespread application of special investigative techniques, financial and joint investigations, to effectively target high-level offenders and disrupt transnational criminal networks.  
  • Harmonising domestic legislation and taking coordinated action to facilitate international cooperation and prevent crime displacement.  
  • Developing the means to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corrupt activities, and establishing a robust framework to tackle crime and corruption elements along the supply chain, by conducting parallel financial and corruption investigations for crimes that affect the environment.  
  • Promoting successful models of collaboration between government agencies, academia, and private sector entities including NGOs to address the challenges of countering these crimes. 

Implementing these recommendations would bring us closer to meeting existing international commitments and achieving SDGs related to safeguarding life below water, life on land, strong institutions, good health, and the climate. Our aim is to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions, ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources for the sake of all humanity. 

Together, we can build a world where our children—and future generations—inherit a planet rich in biodiversity.