Criminal offences against the environment

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Environmental crime
Crimes against nature
Ecological vandalism
Crimes against the environment
Smuggling of toxic chemicals
Illegal movement of chemicals
Disposal of waste materials
Trade in wildlife
Illegal fishing
Banned chemicals
Criminal trade in timber
Green crime

Green crime is the term now being adopted to cover a wide variety of illegal actions which harm the environment, for example the smuggling of banned chemical or waste materials, illegal trade in timber or wildlife, and illegal fishing including whaling. The growth in this type of crime is being fuelled by the erosion of border controls as trade is increasingly liberalised, and the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the rise of the Russian mafia in regions as distant as Africa and Asia.


The smuggling of toxic waste from former Soviet bloc countries to Africa and Asian countries, despite an international ban is raising serious concerns that this will eventually lead to the same export of nuclear waste. Russia is also the centre of the smuggling of CFCs mainly into the US and the European Union. World leaders are now advocating increased monitoring and control of international treaties banning these illegal trades, with increased penalisation of those who commit the crimes and those who purchase the illegal materials.

In 1998 green crime was estimated to be worth US $40 billion a year worldwide with the mafia centrally involved. The illegal wildlife trade was reckoned to be worth $5 billion a year. Estimates suggested 15% of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in use were illegally acquired. The largest illegal trade in timber was estimated to be worth $15 billion a year.

In 1980, almost no environmental crimes were charged in Germany. In 1991, the number of charges filed was between 25,000 to 30,000, the total increasing by between 20 to 30% annually.

Investigators of eco crime in Italy have coined the term ecomafia to describe the involvement of organized crime gangs and syndicates in the illegal dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes in Italy. Each year an estimated 30 million tonnes of industrial waste in Italy goes unaccounted for, a large proportion of which finds it way to illegal dump sites around the country. Mafia involvement in illegal dumping in Italy is estimated to be worth US $182 million per year.

The World Bank said that illegal logging in 1997 was estimated to have totalled between three million and four million cubic metres (between four million and 5.3 million cubic yards), or three to eight times sustainable levels. The bank said the commercial potential of Cambodia's forests would disappear by 2002 if those rates continued.

19/5/1999 - The first-ever regional conference aimed at tackling timber smuggling from Cambodia was held in Phnom Penh in June 1999.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST