Department of Environmental Affairs hosts INTERPOL Meeting on Pollution Crime

22 May 2018


The Department of Environmental Affairs is hosting INTERPOL’s 23rd Pollution Crime Working Group (PCWG) and Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee (ECEC) Advisory Board (AB) meetings at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park from today, 22 May to 24 May 2018.

This is the first time the PCWG will meet in South Africa.

The PCWG network meets annually to discuss new and growing global concerns relating to pollution crime, share best practice in dealing with existing and emerging pollution threats, plan joint operations and also to develop strategies going forward.     

The ECEC was established by in 1992 to identify the various problems that arise in connection with environmental crime investigations and find possible solutions. It is comprised of executive level officials and decision makers from INTERPOL member countries who assist INTERPOL in identifying emerging patterns and trends in the field of environmental crime and in building law enforcement responses to address the identified threats.

At the 3rd Environmental Compliance and Enforcement meeting in Edinburgh in November 2017, members took stock of progress made in the fight against environmental crime; identified further strategies to address key challenges and identified areas to harness the critical global support required to ensure the future security and sustainability of the environment.

Environmental crime is being dealt with at the highest levels of government across the world, with numerous resolutions and commitments being made, as part of the collaborative international effort.

Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, said during her budget vote in Parliament this month that the Department is conducting source apportionment studies in both the Vaal Triangle Airshed and Highveld Priority Areas to determine the contributors to air quality in these areas. The health impact study has subsequently been completed. These studies will be utilised in the review of air quality management plans.

The Minister said that government has agreed on requirements to implement offset projects in partnership with industry with a view towards resolving evident air pollution problems in these areas.

Marine pollution is one of the biggest challenges being faced today and threatens our fragile ecosystems. South Africa has a number of measures in place to tackle this problem. The National Pollution Laboratory (NPL) operated by the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) has been established and laboratory work will soon be commencing. This will allow for in-depth analysis of the samples that could not be done in the field (mobile laboratory).

In addition, South Africa is amongst the countries to have endorsed the UN Environmental Programme’s Clean Seas Campaign. The campaign is aimed at stepping up international, regional and national efforts to combat marine litter.

The Minister also announced the piloting of the Department’s Source to Sea Initiative. “It is an ambitious new strategy to investigate, combat pollution in particular plastic pollution which threatens both freshwater and marine ecosystems,” said the Minister.

The Deputy Director-General: Legal, Authorisations, Compliance and Enforcement, Mr Ishaam Abader, was elected to the ECEC Advisory Board at the meeting in November 2017.

The Pollution Crime Working Group, together with the Wildlife Crime Working Group (WCWG); the Fisheries (FCWG) and the newly established Forestry Crime Working Group, support the ECEC AB and are responsible for the operational and tactical responses within INTERPOL in relation to environmental crime.  These working groups focus specifically on how to tackle crime in these areas.

In 2017, Interpol, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, undertook a “30 Days of Action” globally-coordinated, country-led enforcement operation tackling illegal disposal and the illicit trade in hazardous waste. This operation widened the scope of previous INTERPOL’s interventions to address all types of illegal waste, such as industrial, construction, household and medical waste.  The focus included illegal shipments of hazardous waste, the illegal disposal of hazardous waste and other wastes, including chemicals, illegal landfill activities and dumping sites; and unlawful recycling operations (for example, the mixing or misclassification of wastes in order to disguise hazardous content).   A further operation is to be discussed at this week’s meeting.

In his opening address, Mr Abader said addressing environmental crime is by no means easy.  “This is arguably more evident in the pollution crime area of work where these challenges are, in my view, most problematic,” he said.  Mr Abader added that environmental crime was no longer an emerging threat to the global economy, but stood side by side with the other crime categories.

“Some environmental crime syndicates are among the most profitable criminal organisations in the world. The most common crimes against the environment, as you know, are connected with the unlawful exploitation of wild fauna and flora; pollution; waste disposal and its trade,” he said.

The costs of environmental crime are estimated to be in the region of $250 billion annually which is considerably greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies in efforts to combat it.  By sector, the amounts are staggering, with illegal wildlife trade estimated at 7-23 billion USD. Forestry crimes (including corporate crimes and illegal logging), account for approx. 51-152 billion USD. Illegal fisheries account for an estimated 11-24 billion USD, illegal mining around 12-48 billion USD and waste accounts for 10-12 billion USD, per year.

The environment provides a foundation for sustainability and environmental crimes are unlike any other, as they have a more profound additional cost: namely, the impact on the environment and associated cost to future generations.

Mr Abader said the importance of environmental security is understated, with an increase in transnational crimes that include hazardous and chemical products, forest products and illegal animal trafficking.

The realisation of these challenges resulted in the South African government prioritising certain categories of environmental crime, in particular, wildlife trafficking’ as well as launching initiatives such as our Oceans and Coast Operation Phakisa which enables the country to undertake compliance and enforcement in a more integrated, co-ordinated and impactful way.

Matters to be discussed at the Skukuza meeting include an African perspective on addressing pollution crime, planning for an operation to tackle marine pollution, fraud in the biofuel and carbon emission trade and the prosecution of pollution-related crimes.

The new Board of the PCWG will be elected on Thursday.

For media inquiries contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871

For interviews contact:

Eleanor Momberg
Cell: 083 400 5741

Editors’ Note:

The PCWG is INTERPOL’s global network of law enforcement experts dealing with pollution crime. It includes investigators, intelligence officers, border control officers, forensics and other environmental crime experts. The work conducted under the PCWG’s umbrella is currently based on voluntary contributions from member countries.

In addition to the operational and tactical aspects of the PCWG, work to combat pollution-related crime includes identifying global and regional trends on pollution crime; carrying out effective projects to build capacity in the enforcement of pollution crime; and help to build a vibrant international community across organisations who play a role in pollution crime enforcement in working group member countries.