Conceptualising and combating transnational environmental crime


To date, transnational environmental crime has been poorly attended to by the transnational organised crime and transnational policing discourse. Academics have focused on individual elements of environmental crime, neglecting a broader theoretical discussion, while national and international institutions have prioritised other forms of organised crime, giving little thought to the nuanced nature of transnational environmental crime and how this should be reflected in policing and countermeasures. This paper attempts to rectify this by conceptualising transnational environmental crime and suggesting ways forward for countermeasure development. The paper will begin by looking at the problem of environmental crime, its value, scope and effects, concluding that the damaging nature of transnational environmental crime demands a greater focus on its policing. The nature of transnational environmental crime will then be discussed by reference to traditional forms of organised crime. It will be argued that, while transnational environmental crime is a form of organised crime, and has some features in common with the traditional organised crimes, such as drug smuggling and people trafficking, it is the substantial differences that should guide the approach to developing countermeasures. The development of effective countermeasures, it is concluded, requires a significant change in policy at every level.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    I acknowledge that there are various terminologies used to refer to the North/South dichotomy (e.g. first world/third world, developed/developing). In this paper, I follow the practice of the United Nations Development program which, in its 2009/10 annual report, uses the Global North/Global South terminology (UNDP).

  2. 2.

    Manager of Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme.

  3. 3.

    Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 1972.

  4. 4.

    Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 1987.

  5. 5.

    Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal 1989.

  6. 6.

    Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemical and Pesticides in International Trade 1998.

  7. 7.

    Stockholm Conventions on Persistent Organic Pollutants 2001.

  8. 8.

    Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961.

  9. 9.

    Note that demand for ozone depleting substances will recede due to the Montreal Protocol, as all equipment using the substances will eventually be phased out.


  1. Argañarás F (1997) The Drug War at the Supply End: The Case of Bolivia. Latin Am Perspect 24:59–80

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, About Us.Available viaASEAN website. 7 March 2011.

  3. Banks D et al (2007) Upholding the Law: The Challenge of Effective Enforcement. EIA, London

    Google Scholar 

  4. Baumüller H, Brack D, Umpfenbach K (2009) Keeping Illegal Fish and Timber off the Market: A Comparison of EU Regulations. Chatham House, London

    Google Scholar 

  5. Blindell J (2006) 21st Century policing - The role of police in the detection, investigation and prosecution of environmental crime.ACPR Issues 2.

  6. Brack D (2007) Controlling Trade: Tracking, Detection and Border Controls. In:The Growth and Control of International Environmental Crime. Chatham House, London

    Google Scholar 

  7. Brack D (2009) Combatting international environmental crime. In: White (ed)Environmental Crime: a reader. Willan Publishing, Devon.

  8. Brack D, Hayman G (2001) Intergovernmental Actions on Illegal Logging: Options for intergovernmental action to help combat illegal logging and illegal trade in timber and forest products. UK Department for International Development, London

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bricknell S (2010) Environmental crime in Australia. Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra

    Google Scholar 

  10. Cisneros-Montemayor A et al (2010) The Global Potential for Whale Watching. University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre, Vancouver

    Google Scholar 

  11. Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2010) Expert consultation on the use of the Convention for combating emerging forms of crime.Item 5 of the provisional agenda for the Fifth session.CTOC/COP/2010/3.

  12. EIA (2007) Upholding the Law: The Challenge of Effective Enforcement. EIA, London

    Google Scholar 

  13. EIA (2008) Environmental Crime – Our Planet, Our Problem. EIA, London

    Google Scholar 

  14. Elliot (2007) Transnational environmental crime in the Asia Pacific: an’un(der)securitized’ security problem? Pac Rev 20(4):499–522

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. European Parliament (2002) Recommendation on the reform of the conventions on drugs.B50541/2002.

  16. Farrell G (1998) A global empirical review of drug crop eradication and United Nations’ crop substitution and alternative development strategies. J Drug Issues 28(2):395–436

    Google Scholar 

  17. Four Corners (2002) The Timber Mafia. ABC TV.Transcript available online. 01 November 2010.

  18. Fröhlich T (2003) Organised environmental crime in the EU Member States. BfU, Kassel

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gray J (2001) Why our drug laws have failed and what we can do about it: a judicial indictment of the War on Drugs. Temple University Press, Philadelphia

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hayman G, Brack D (2002) International Environmental Crime: the nature and control of environmental black markets. Royal Institute of International Affairs, London

    Google Scholar 

  21. International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (2009) Principles of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Handbook.

  22. Interpol (2009)Environmental Crime Programme: Strategic Action Plan.

  23. Interpol, Pollution Crimes Working Group (2006) Assessing the Links between Organised Crime and Pollution Crimes’.

  24. Jensen E (2004) Social Consequences of the War on Drugs: the Legacy of Failed Policy. Crim Justice Policy Rev 15(1):100–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (1988)Special Issue: Assessing the Americas’ War on Drugs.

  26. Lauterback A (2005) Opening remarks.Interpol Environmental Crimes Committee 5th International Conference on Environmental Crime, Lyon.

  27. Legambiente (2007) RapportoEcomafia: i numeri e le storiedellacriminalitàambientale. EdizioniAmbiente, Milan

    Google Scholar 

  28. Schmidt C (2004) Environmental Crimes: Profiting at the Earth’s Expense. Environ Health Perspect 112(2):96–103

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Snowdon K (2009) UN report warns Afghanistan must control drugs trade.ABC Radio. Transcript available at Cited 7 March 2011.

  30. Takizawa H (1997) Interview with Hiroaki Takizawa, Assistant Director, Economic and Financial Crime Sub-Directorate, Interpol, Lyon, France, October 1997. Trends Organized Crime 3:6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Thompson J, Kanaan R (2003) Final Report Submitted to the United States Agency for International Development, Conflict Timber: Dimensions of the Problem in Asia and Africa; Volume I Synthesis Report. ARD, Inc, Burlington

    Google Scholar 

  32. UN (2010) Draft Salvador Declaration on Comprehensive Strategies for Global Challenges: Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Systems and Their Development in a Changing World. Twelfth Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Salvador, Brazil. A/CONF.213/L.6/Rev.2.

  33. UN Environment Programme (2007) Illegal Trade in Ozone Depleting Substances: Asia and Pacific Region. UN, Nairobi

    Google Scholar 

  34. UN Office on Drugs and Crime (2009) Organised Crime and Trafficking in Eastern Africa: A Discussion Paper. UN, Nairobi

    Google Scholar 

  35. UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Human trafficking: the facts. Cited 4 November 2010.

  36. White R (2009) Environmental Crime: a reader. Willan Publishing, Devon

    Google Scholar 

  37. Wisotsky S (1986) Breaking the Impasse in the War on Drugs. Greenwood Publishing, Westport

    Google Scholar 

  38. Zimmerman M (2003) The Black Market for Wildlife: Combating Transnational Organized Crime in the Illegal Wildlife Trade. Vanderbilt J Int Law 36:1657–1689

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Glen Wright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wright, G. Conceptualising and combating transnational environmental crime. Trends Organ Crim 14, 332–346 (2011).

Download citation


  • Transnational environmental crime
  • Transnational policing
  • Conceptualising environmental crime
  • Countermeasures
  • Demand reduction
  • Supply reduction