By Calum MacDonald, SEPA

THE environment is under attack from transnational organised crime groups and it is time to recognise that we are at a global crossroads. Despite all the efforts of states across the world, we have to recognise environmental crime as a significant threat.

This week Glasgow hosts Interpol’s environmental compliance and enforcement committee advisory board and its pollution crime working group. With representation from senior officials and decision-makers from all 190 Interpol member countries, who provide strategic advice on relevant issues and harness global support. Both groups will be attending a series of events and workshops, with senior law enforcement and environmental regulators from more than 30 countries, to examine ways to build capacity and capability to tackle environmental crime, in the areas of wildlife, illegal logging, fisheries, pollution and trans-frontier shipment of waste. This is criminality that is global in scale, industrial in nature and one that requires a multi-faceted response.

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Transnational organised crime groups change their operations quickly to evade our investigative actions, so we have to be equally dynamic and adaptive. That means we need to think differently and explore new tools to stay one step ahead and Interpol has been at the forefront of these transnational investigations since 1992. In SEPA we’re looking to play our part in this work, while recognising that the scale and coordination of the efforts have to be increased and widened in scale and scope.

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Environmental crime threatens the survival of some of the world’s most endangered species and leads to the loss of habitats, biodiversity and national resources. It distorts global legitimate markets and the impacts go well beyond environmental damage. The illegal trade in natural resources and dumping of hazardous and contaminated waste seriously undermines economies and livelihoods in some of the most disadvantaged countries, with affects human health. Combined estimates from the United Nations environment programme UNEP and Interpol place the monetary value of transnational organised environmental crime between £60–190 billion annually.

Sophisticated transnational organised crime groups trade in these environmental commodities and trade across international borders. The global illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products alone drives a black market estimated at £7billion a year, making it third behind only firearms and drugs in the ranking of illegal trafficking activities.

The Interpol meetings in Glasgow provide an opportunity to better co-ordinate investigative activities, improve governance and, critically, improve the sharing of intelligence and best practice. I have no doubt that we will make progress through the week while acknowledging that we can and must do more collectively.

Within Scotland we have recognised the threat from waste crime and the pernicious influences of organised crime and the destabilising effect that it has on the industry here where criminal economic drivers, in particular tax evasion, warp the legitimate markets and prevent proper disposal and development of reuse and recycling initiatives. The illegal transfrontier shipment of waste will be a key theme for the week and its criminal disposal in African and South East Asia countries that expose populations there to toxic material through improper recycling and dumping.

Scotland has led the way in law enforcement partnership working and joint intervention activities and as well as passing on our experience we will also seek to learn from other countries and build platforms for a truly collaborative approach that lies at the heart of the work ahead.

I chair the advisory board of the Interpol’s environmental compliance and enforcement committee and believe that Scotland punches above its weight when it comes to environmental matters. But significant enforcement efforts and prosecution of criminals need to be strengthened, co-ordinated and governed more effectively, as while consumption and demand for these illegal products grows, so will the associated threats to human health and environmental security.

Perhaps, on the day after World Environment Day, we should be asking difficult questions of ourselves about how much we care about our environment and what we can do to protect it.

Calum MacDonald is the Executive Director for Regulatory Services at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, SEPA