29th Lisbon Forum "Human rights, environment and economic crimes: youth at the forefront"

Panel on “Economic crimes and the environment”

16-17 October 2023, Lisbon, Portugal


Q1: What is the role of your organisations in the area of fighting economic crimes and linked to that protection of environment? 


The Council of Europe has in place several bodies that work to fight economic crime and corruption, notably GRECO, and MONEYVAL, the Council of Europe’s committee responsible for monitoring measures to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It is an associate member of the FATF and part of the global network.

As we heard from the DSG in the opening segment, the fight against environmental crime is a growing global concern, and it comes with an important economic component.

The Council of Europe actually recognised this challenge quite early on, and the Organisation has developed legal instruments to address environmental crime. They include:

  • the Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law, which was the first supranational instrument to criminalise environmental offences and which is now being updated. I will come back to that.  
  • the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, the “Bern Convention”.
  • the Council of Europe’s Landscape Convention.
  • the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers from 2022 (CM/Rec(2022)20) to member States on human rights and the protection of the environment.

Based on this and bearing in mind the extensive case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the environment and human rights, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe examined these issues at their 4th Summit in Reykjavik in May this year, and they adopted the Reykjavik Declaration.

The Declaration highlights the need for urgent action to protect the environment, and to counter the impact of the planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Very importantly, the declaration reflects the commitment of the member States at the highest level,  and it provides a roadmap for the future action of the Council of Europe in this field.  

We are now working on a new Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law. The negotiations are taking place in an expert committee that comprises national delegations and a wide range of stakeholders and partner institutions.

The links between economic crime and environmental crime have also been recognised in the Opinion issued by the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, the CCPE, in 2022, on the role of prosecutors in the protection of the environment. The Opinion highlights the role of prosecutors in protecting the environment through criminal, administrative and civil law.

The effects of environmental crime are long-lasting, even irreversible. The perpetrators of those crimes can be individuals, legal entities, corrupt officials, organised criminal groups or a combination of those.

The opportunities for significant profits, the existence of legal discrepancies between different jurisdictions, a low risk of detection, and often insignificant penalties all make environmental crime a very attractive business for criminals.

And despite the significant amount of proceeds from this kind of crime, action by countries to follow, freeze, seize and confiscate the money involved in the crimes have not been proportionate to the scale of the problem.

An important tool to effectively disrupt criminal activity is the forfeiture and confiscation of criminal assets derived from crime, including environmental crime.

The Council of Europe has a convention on this, the Convention on the Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism, known as the Warsaw Convention.

That treaty seeks to promote countries’ efforts to seize and confiscate criminal assets and as such it covers also environmental crime and related proceeds from such criminal activity.  It is open to accession by all countries.


Q2: The Council of Europe has put the protection of the environment as one of its key priorities and this is clearly one of the main outcomes of the Reykjavik summit.

While the Council of Europe expertise in the area of economic crime is evident, can you tell us what the organisation can do to support member States in addressing environmental crime? 


These are human rights issues - both the protection of the environment, as we heard from the representative of the Court earlier. And illicit financial flows with the aim of laundering money which very often originate in human rights violations.

As mentioned before, the Council of Europe is working on the development of a new Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law. The experts of the Committee tasked with this work are meeting right now in Strasbourg.

We hope that the Committee will reach a consensus on the text by the end of 2024, and then it will be opened for accession. It will be open to all member states, regardless of whether they are members of the Council of Europe or not. 

This is an important step forward in supporting States to adopt uniform measures to address environmental crime. It will also enhance their ability to cooperate across borders.

The link between environmental and economic crime appears elsewhere in our work as well. MONEYVAL, for example, will play its part in seeking to limit the use of proceeds from such crimes.

MONEYVAL has a peer-to-peer process for assessing the effectiveness of domestic frameworks in combating money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing and related predicate offences, including environmental crime.

Similarly, GRECO through its evaluations will help its members to strengthen their public sector anti-corruption frameworks that can address the risks of environmental crime.

Measures to be taken are for example to enhance transparency and reduce bureaucratic discretion in decision-making relating to environmental policy and regulatory development. Likewise in relation to the use of environmental resources, processes for issuing permits, certifications, and enforcement.

There are also risks of corruption in the renewable energy sector. It is an areas where large amounts of money are involved, there is general acceptance that rapid action needed, there are private/public partnerships, and often limited oversight.

Another mechanism of support that the Council of Europe makes available to member and non-member States is our technical cooperation and assistance. We are already looking at providing assistance to the countries of Western Balkans to strengthen their anti-corruption and AML/CFT response to environmental crime. We expect to get increasing requests for support in that area.


Q3: The Lisbon Forum of the North-South Centre is intended to provide a platform for inter-regional dialogue between government representatives, parliament, regional and local authorities, and the civil society (the so-called quadrilogue) on the global role of the Council of Europe in the areas of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

How can those actors better protect the environment through the prevention and the fight against economic crimes?


There is a role for everybody in this, and many of those who can make a difference are in this room.  The steps that I would point to would be:

  • to make sure that this becomes a policy priority. That national authorities prioritise the detection, investigation and prosecution of environmental crime, and that the environmental dimension is incorporated into national action plans and strategies in the areas of corruption and other economic crimes.
  • States should carry out regular reviews of their legal frameworks and the mechanisms applicable to environmental crime. And the reviews should include the lense of links with financial crime, notably organised crime.
  • countries should preferably move towards a harmonised legislative approach, especially regarding the definition of offences, sanctions, and the investigative tools available. This will be facilitated with the new Council of Europe Convention, and with the updated EU Directive which is being prepared as regards the 27. The international dimension of environmental and associated crimes is extremely strong and that has to be factored into our responses.  
  • An effective prevention policy should include activities to raise awareness among the public of the consequences of corrupt practices in the environmental sector. What is the price to pay in human life and quality of life of environmental crime? what sort of irreversible harm is being caused?
  • We need a holistic approach involving the private and public sectors, and cross-disciplinary and inter-agency co-operation, again particularly across borders. 
  • Parallel financial investigations that focus both on the environmental crime aspect and the connected money laundering offences can help identify criminal networks and disrupt illicit financial flows.
  • Also, the sanctions for environmental crimes applicable to both natural and legal persons should be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.
  • And finally, in addition to the criminal law and prosecutorial aspects, it will be key that the victims of these crimes have access to effective remedies in the form of civil or administrative proceedings, and that they can obtain the necessary redress.