By: Aianne Jasmin de Vera-Decano, RCrim, PGDip-AC
LEAPS Academy Philippines
Presented in this paper is the depth of the impact brought about by environmental crimes towards the many local communities, which heavily relies on the natural resources of our environment. International criminals have latched to running down the natural resources into unsustainable level. The United Nation’s Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) considers environmental crime, including its links with other forms of crime, a serious and growing danger for development, global stability and international security.
The case of Oposa vs Factoran is a landmark decision of the Philippine Supreme Court which emphasized the Doctrine of Intergenerational Responsibility on the environment in the Philippine Legal System, which contributed to the development of international environment law.
At present, there are numerous environmental laws enacted to specifically address environmental issues. Some are agreements that are legally binding for countries that have formally ratified them. Kyoto protocol, for one, differentiate between types of countries and each nation's respective responsibilities under the agreement. To date, several hundred international environmental agreements on the Atmosphere, Freshwater resources, Hazardous substances, Marine environment – global conventions, Marine environment – regional conventions, Marine living resources, Nature conservation and terrestrial living resources, Noise pollution and Nuclear safety exist but most link only a limited number of countries. However, the fact that environmental protection has been acknowledged across the countries for the future generation, many issues are still left unanswered, worst unattended.
Environmental issues have been one of the longest and hottest topics on international debates. As the world embraces technology, so does the emergence of green crimes from out of nowhere. As more legislation are crafted to address emerging environmental crimes so does the increase of environmental offenses.
In an article entitled: “Environmental Profiting at the Earth’s Expense”, experts believed that international environmental crime threatens to become an even greater problem than it already is. The rapidly expanding body of environmental law and the continuing increase in environmental enforcement and regulatory agencies, has created a whole range of administrative arrangements involving ‘risks’, ‘liabilities’ and ‘responsibilities.
TRANSNATIONAL THREAT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES
The problem of environmental crime is transnational. Its effect is felt from all over the world. Studies shared that the geospatial limits of national legal systems posed significant difficulties for the study of transnational environmental crime. Technically speaking, a portion of the growing number of environmental offences are subjected to legal proceedings but the outcome is generally influenced by large corporations.
According to UNICRI, environmental crime ranks the lowest on the law enforcement priority list and are commonly punished with administrative sanctions themselves often unclear and low which renders loopholes to be visible in this area. Considered as a victimless crime, prosecution has had a hard time proving the guilt of the perpetrators because there are no complaining parties.
THE GREATER EVIL IN TRANSNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME
Transnational Environmental Crime (TEC) has two broad divisions and are categorized as trafficking in natural resources and trafficking in hazardous substances.
Trafficking in Natural Resources includes but no limited to the following:
Trade in endangered species - trade in wild plants and animals and their parts and derivatives in big business, estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to involve hundreds of millions of plants and animals each year. The sale and exchange by people of wild animal and plant resources - more simply “wildlife trade” - is an issue at the very heart of relationship between biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Directly and indirectly, increasing demand and consumption are depleting the Earth’s living natural resources at an alarming rate, yet these same resources offer biological foundation upon which human society depends. As a case in point about this in the Philippines, turtles and pangolins are highly in demand commodities being traded and trafficked wildlife species, most particularly in the Palawan province.
Illegal logging - is considered as the most economically significant international environment crime. The levels of illegal logging from across the world are different but if taken cumulative is worth billions of dollars. One of the most evident devastating effect of losing a great number of trees is climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer, the only barrier protecting us from the scorching heat of UV rays. In the Philippines, illegal logging remains prevalent in selected regions.
Illegal exploitation and trafficking of mineral resources - natural resources cover a wide spectrum, and obviously not all are discussed here and its exploitation is mostly unexplored field in the study for criminologists. This resource represents a lucrative illegal source of revenues for criminals. Corruption is the main reason why resource-rich countries perform poorly economically. A case in point is black sand mining. The ongoing ransacking and extraction of black sand at the Cagayan River, allegedly by a Chinese company, is a crystal-clear act of raping the natural resources of the province. Black sand mining should not be permitted even if there is no law that bans it. At the current times, the only limits in the Mining Act is dredging done in reservoirs and protective areas. The government should be strict in the issuance of environmental compliance certificate and other permits. In 2014, the Mining Industry Coordinating Council, a panel directly under the supervision of the Office of the President, in a resolution ordered the appraisal of all existing black sand mining operations in the country, from the issuance of permits to sanctions that may be imposed on companies that violate conditions set by those permits. A report from an inter-agency Fact-Finding Committee on Illegal Mining entitled “Philippine Mining Unearthed” identified quarrying of magnetite black ore or black sand is the most common form of illegal mining operations in the country.
Trafficking in Hazardous Substances
Illegal trade in ozone depleting substances - at the international level, illegal trade in ozone depleting substance is one good example of a problem springing directly from the negotiation and implementation of an international treaty. The illegal trade happens when manufacturers of chemicals provide inaccurate labels on the products and tampering of documents to pass quality controls. The Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer was agreed in 1987, designed to eliminate the production of industrial chemicals which were widely used because of their cheap value. This protocol has been made successful in terms of implementation.
Dumping and trafficking of waste - illegal waste dumping generally occurs on vacant or private properties including abandoned industrial, commercial or residential buildings and it occurs more in urban areas due to the inaccessibility of recycling or waste disposal centers. The illegal dumping of waste effects the environment by contaminating the soil, surface waters and groundwater. It is very difficult to stop illegal dumping at a location after it has occurred. If the site is not effectively addressed, it can easily attract more dumping.
CALCULATING GREEN CRIME IMPACT
Like most illicit activities, the extent of damages of TEC is difficult to ascertain given its effect is globally felt. Estimating the full extent of criminal liabilities cannot be simply illuminated at it involves not only the money generated from the criminal activity but also State’s money. Despite its effect, it was greatly neglected by the legal system. The presence of many forms of legislation protecting the environment and the manner how it is implemented is poorly executed due to the greater evil looming against the government system.
The call on a collective application and strict enforcement of various environmental laws should be a common response to such concerns in a bid for an increased environmental enforcement investment and effort and often, this may be the best course of action.
TEC is a multifaceted enterprise crime operating alongside a licit market, involving a range of actors, which is perceived as victimless despite potentially drastic consequences and is made up of numerous constituent crimes, each with their own nuances and peculiar difficulties for effective countermeasures.
STRATEGIC APPROACH VERSUS TRANSNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES
Large and rich countries should start investing to a more sustainable approaches in sourcing out raw materials and stop targeting poor countries that are rich on natural resources. Greater emphasis should be focused on multidisciplinary analysis of environmental protection and adapting a response focused on socio-economic goals and the motivating factors that will ensure that such goals are achieved.
The approach to transnational economic crimes needs more than one country to solve this. UNICRI has implemented several international and regional applied-research projects related to the illegal trade and trafficking goods having an adverse impact on the environment. A precondition of effective policing is that those that enforce the law must see TEC as a serious issue. This stems from the perception of TEC as victimless and a lack of awareness about its negative impacts. Thus, a concerted effort must be made to inform and educate enforcement authorities of the importance of the task that they are charged with.
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