Press releases

Tuesday 03 Aug 1999

Workshop on Enforcement and Compliance with Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Geneva, Switzerland, 12 July 1999 - Statement by Mr. Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director, on behalf of Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme at the Workshop on Enforcement and Compliance with Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

Let me tell you how pleased I am to welcome you all to this important Workshop on Enforcement and Compliance with Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in Geneva today. The Executive Director of UNEP, Dr. Toepfer has asked me to express to you his most sincere apologies for his inability to participate in these proceedings. He has also told me to convey to you his sense of support and commitment to what you intend to achieve during these deliberations.

Our high expectations are focused on this workshop. The United Nations Environment Programme has a special and an abiding interest in the proper enforcement and compliance with multilateral environmental agreements. This has been in our approved programme and our slow start was on account of lack of funds, a handicap now overcome by the generosity of a number of donors: the UK, Canada, Germany and Japan for this start. We indeed thank them and those still contemplating supporting us.

UNEP is the home for the international environmental conventions that have been negotiated under its aegis and to whom it provides support. Under Agenda 21, Chapter 38, the UNEP role and mandate are even broader.

Conventions are legally binding mechanisms. They represent the collective will of the international community to legally commit them to protecting the environment. The environmental conventions advance the overall global environmental objectives and policies. In approximately thirty years, our primary focus has been on the development of international environmental law. Our next important task is to advance and enhance the implementation of agreed international norms and policies, to monitor and foster compliance with environmental principles and international agreements.

Seen in this context, this workshop is just one of a series that we intend to hold in the future at the global and regional levels to foster compliance with and enforcement of international environmental agreements.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Environmental crime is a serious global problem, even though the immediate consequences of the offence may not be obvious. Environmental crimes do have victims. The cumulative costs in environmental damage and the long-range toll in illness, injury, death and extinction of wildlife species, depletion of the ozone layer, pollution of the environment and distortion of economies may be considerable.

At the international level, this phenomenon has two aspects: First, deliberate or inadvertent non-compliance with MEAs by the States party to them. And second, deliberate evasion of environmental laws and regulations by individuals and companies. Where these activities involve movements across national boundaries, they can be defined as "international environmental crime".

As the international framework of environmental law develops and countries increasingly implement national regulations, there are more and more opportunities for making profits by evasion of these new laws. Another reason could be greater public and governmental awareness which has led to more investigation into the issues. There are of course other factors as well that have contributed to this increasingly occurring phenomenon.

First, the general trend towards trade liberalization and deregulation. In some cases this has rendered border controls on illegal trade virtually impossible. Second, some regions have been so transformed from what they used to be that concomitantly, difficulties of environmental law-making and law enforcement have increased. There has been a rise in organized crime, in many countries with economies in transition. Third, the growth of transnational corporations and activities amongst whom regulations are often difficult to enforce.

Let us take the example of the CITES. International trade in animals, plants and their products is estimated to generate an annual turnover well in excess of $20 billion. This includes 40,000 primates, several million animal pelts, several million birds, 10 million reptile skins, 500 million tropical fish,9-10 million orchids and 7-8 million cacti.

It is believed that a quarter of this trade might be illegal. Interpol estimates place illegal trade in endangered species as likely to be the second largest criminal activity world-wide, after narcotics. Poaching and smuggling of ivory, tiger skins and other body parts, and rhino horns, in particular, has threatened the existence of all or some populations of the species in question.

The second example I would like to give you pertains to the compliance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The Protocol has proved to be one of the most successful MEAs yet negotiated. As the production and use of CFCs and halons has been phased out in the industrialized world, black markets and illegal trade have expanded, the main destinations being the US and EU. Precise figures are of course impossible to come by, but government and industry estimates show global totals of 16,000-38,000 tonnes in the probable peak year, 1995.

It is likely that CFC smuggling has declined since then. CFCs in general seem to be in shorter supply, as they should be in the absence of illegal material, but illegal trade in halons which are much more powerful ozone depleters than CFCs has probably grown.

The third example is that of the Basel Convention. Illegal trade in waste is difficult to quantify. There is no global estimate of the volumes or sums involved. In one country in 1994, there was a 16% increase in crimes involving toxic waste disposal, compared with a 4% increase in other criminal activities. In 1996, 28,935 offences with an environmental component (73% of the total of such cases) concerned unsafe disposal of waste. In another country in 1998, the value of illegal activities in the field of waste management amounted to about 2 billion euro. Surely, the seriousness of the problem cannot be overemphasized.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Environmental crime is an important issue that requires our utmost attention. Environmental crimes unlike most "normal" crimes, affect not just individuals but also the environment around us. Second, the issue of environmental crime has so far suffered from the low level of attention it has received outside of the ministries of the environment. It continues to receive low priority amongst enforcement agencies such as the police and customs.

In the wider context, this issue touches on the global framework of environmental protection. Governments have so far, for understandable reasons, devoted most attention to the negotiation of MEAs. But the emphasis must now be placed on their implementation, both at the state level - the compliance mechanisms and the ground level - enforcement mechanisms.

I would like to sound a word of caution here. Environmental crime is also a serious problem in areas that are not covered by these three MEAs, or indeed by any MEA at all. I refer specifically to illegal logging and illegal fishing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We in UNEP are pleased that the fight against international environmental crime received a substantial boost after environment ministers from the G8 countries announced a range of measures designed to deter and apprehend traders in banned substances throughout the world. The list includes endangered species, ozone-depleting substances and hazardous wastes.

This new focus on environmental crime is a welcome move. UNEP has long been an advocate of more resources, better information networks and tougher penalties against the perpetrators of environmental crime. Indeed, we are meeting here to discuss the best modalities of curbing environmental crimes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is clear that international organizations, MEA secretariats, environment ministries and enforcement agencies must learn to work together across a range of environmental issues where the problems and solutions lend themselves to common solutions, rather than dealing with them in a fragmented manner. A systematic approach must be agreed, and a mechanism for regular consultations, exchange of information, set in motion. For us in UNEP, we see this effort leading to a programme in our future environmental law programme for the 1st decade in the new millennium, to be submitted to the twenty-first session of the Governing Council. To do this effectively, the Executive Director has decided to have a senior level position addressing this matter with immediate effect. The complex issues that you touch on cannot be decided upon on an ad hoc basis any more.

We have much to gain from your perspectives on the subject. This workshop offers us a new opportunity to step out boldly from the cocoons of our disciplines to confront the various aspects of environmental crimes in all their complexity, and furnish cogent and creative solutions which can help governments in their fight against this scourge. We count on your support and support of other Governments in our deliberate efforts to face the challenges - daunting as they are - that lie ahead of us.

I would like, once again, to welcome you to this Workshop and to wish you an intellectually stimulating discussion in looking at practical ways of fighting the menace we came to address.

Tuesday 03 Aug 1999
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