Wildlife Justice Commission Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman addresses the CCPCJ 31st Session on tackling environmental crimes

On 19 May 2022, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Executive Director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, took the floor during the plenary of the 31st Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPJC), which is taking place this week (16-20 May) in Vienna. Olivia Swaak-Goldman’s intervention called on States to effectively implement key recommendations endorsed earlier this year at the CCPCJ expert discussions which focused on tackling environmental crimes. In her statement, Olivia Swaak-Goldman emphasised that only with the effective implementation of these key recommendations, criminal pressures on our environment can be alleviated.

Full statement

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to address you today for the 31st session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. I would like to extend my gratitude to the secretariat for the excellent organization of this event.

The Wildlife Justice Commission welcomes the inclusion of Crimes that Affect the Environment as a theme to be covered by the CCPCJ, as anchored in the Kyoto Declaration and in resolution 76/185 on “Preventing and combating crimes that affect the environment”. Likewise, we welcome the organisation of the Expert Discussions on Crimes that Affect the Environment in February of this year, during which, key and concrete recommendations were outlined for member states to implement.

Nevertheless, it is important to stress that crimes that affect the environment are not a new phenomenon, and have for long been perceived as a fringe and emerging issue, not warranting the utilisation of all relevant tools at the disposal of law enforcement agencies. The CCPCJ first addressed the issue of crimes that affect the environment during its third session in 1994, while the Crime Congress made references to the concept as early as 1990. Yet these crimes continued to go under the radar. 26 years later, Interpol and UNEP warned us in 2016 that crimes that affect the environment propelled themselves to become the the world’s fourth largest crime sector over these few decades, growing at 2 to 3 times the pace of the global economy. In the meantime, 70% of global shark populations were lost, often driven by criminal networks dealing in their fins. Illegal logging accounts for 50-90% of all forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, and 15-30% of all wood traded globally. While countless species were brought to the brink of extinction.

The perception on crimes that affect the environment as a fringe and emerging issue resulted in the creation of low-risk high-reward environment, a mantra I am sure you are familiar with, and which enabled the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems for the profit of criminal networks, with far- reaching societal consequences, and hindering our efforts and investment in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many of the recommendations laid out during these Expert Discussions effectively provide a way forward for Member States to tackle these crimes. Rooting out corruption, making greater use of parallel financial investigation, focusing on asset recovery, emphasising data collection and intelligence analysis, making more systematic use of advanced investigative methodologies, and strengthening international cooperation are all themes that came up during these discussions.

However, most of these methodologies and responses are not new and have been part of our toolbox for much longer. But they were yet to be systematically leveraged by States and their law enforcement agencies, with the prioritization and expertise required to address these crimes often lacking.

The recent momentum built around addressing these crimes must not be lost. It is only with adequate prioritisation at the multilateral and domestic levels that we would get to grasp the scope of the problem and develop targeted responses to address it. Therefore, we urge you to implement the recommendations laid down during the CCPCJ Expert Discussions and to prioritize tackling these crimes as part of your national law enforcement strategies.

Contrary to other illicit commodities, our environment is finite. Once a species is extinct or an ecosystem is destroyed, there is no going back. Against this backdrop and the environmental crises that we are currently experiencing, we cannot wait any longer.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.