New European crackdown on Environmental Crime

Born Free welcomes new Directive which will make trafficking wildlife in the EU increasingly risky for criminals. 

Two squirrel monkeys desperately clinging to the bars of a cage

Trafficking wild live animals and animal parts in the European Union will now become a higher-risk activity for criminals, with the passing into law of the new Environmental Crime Directive, setting the EU on the path to tackling these horrific crimes.   

On 27 February 2024, the European Parliament adopted a revised version of the Environmental Crime Directive (ECD). The new law, which is expected to be endorsed by the European Council within a few weeks, strengthens the tools available to EU Member States to address the risks associated with the ever-increasing environmental criminality. 

Environmental crime is the third most lucrative criminal activity in the world after drug trafficking and counterfeiting (Interpol 2020). With few and inconsistent mechanisms in place to tackle them at national or international levels, environmental crimes are seen as low risk, high gain by criminals, resulting in a rate growth of 5% to 7% per year globally.  

Illegal wildlife trade is proving particularly attractive to criminals and organised crime gangs, and the European Union is a major destination and transit hub for trafficked wildlife. Hundreds of thousands of live wild animals are imported illegally to fuel the exotic pet market, while parts and products from wild species are traded illegally for a range of purposes from traditional medicines and cuisine to fashion.  

The new Directive replaces legislation that has been in place since 2008. It expands the list of acts that EU Member States are obliged to establish as crimes in their national legislation, increases sanctions and penalties, and puts in place measures to improve the effectiveness of national efforts to combat environmental crimes, such as training for relevant authorities and enhanced cross-border cooperation.  

EU Policy Officer at Born Free, Elodie Cantaloube, said: “While not perfect, this new legislation should prove to be a stronger deterrent for criminals by increasing the risks they take when committing environmental offences. If implemented consistently, it will help ensure uniformity of the rules across Member States, removing the opportunities for criminals to take advantage of EU countries with weaker rules, which is crucial given the cross-border nature of most serious environmental crimes, including wildlife trafficking.”

The adoption of the new Directive by the 27 EU Member States represents a significant milestone for wildlife and biodiversity, as sends a strong message to criminals and the wider world that environmental crimes are serious and will be treated as such in the EU going forward. It also demonstrates that governments are finally recognising the need for enhanced measures and international coordination and cooperation to effectively combat these crimes. A Resolution adopted at the 31st meeting of the UNODC’s Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in May last year provides momentum for the adoption of a Global Agreement on Illicit Wildlife Trafficking, which could prove to be a key component of an effective global response.  

Elodie Cantaloube continued: “Born Free is also closely following the development of a Convention to combat Environmental Crimes by the Council of Europe. The proposed text broadly mirrors the new EU legislation. As with the EU Environmental Crime Directive, we will work together with like-minded NGOs to ensure that wildlife crime is enshrined in the legislation, and advocate for the establishment of truly deterrent sanctions for criminals, robust reporting, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, better rights and protection for victims, whistle-blowers and other persons of interest, and provisions ensuring the effective implementation of the text by Member States.

“At a time of crisis for the world’s wildlife and the wider environment, nothing less will do.”