What is environmental crime?

Any act which breaks environmental law and causes major harm or risk to the environment or human health is considered an environmental crime.

The most well documented environmental crimes are

  • iIllegal emission or discharge of substances into air, water or soil
  • illegal trade in wildlife
  • illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances
  • illegal shipment or dumping of waste

Criminal sanctions for breaking environmental law

The EU law 'Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law' identifies a number of environmental offences that are punishable as a criminal offence in all EU countries.

These offences include all environmental crimes listed above, as well as the unlawful operation of dangerous activities (including the manufacture or handling of nuclear materials) and the unlawful treatment of waste.

Under the law, all EU countries have to apply effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal sanctions for an environmental crime, if committed intentionally or with serious negligence. Inciting, aiding and abetting an environmental crime is also punishable as a criminal offence.

The Aarhus Convention

Established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the Aarhus Convention provides the public with a number of rights with regard to the environment. They are

  • the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities
  • the right to take part in environmental decision-making
  • the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the above rights or environmental law in general

The Aarhus Convention entered into force in 2001 and has been ratified by 47 parties, including the EU and most European and Central Asian countries.


DownloadPDF - 50.1 KB