HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE “Environmental Protection and Human Rights”

27 February 2020 

Palais de l’Europe, Hemicycle Room (Strasbourg)

SPEECH of Ms Katariina Jahkola,  Vice-Chair of the European Committee on Criminal Problems (CDPC)


Dear colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

First of all, allow me to thank the Georgian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for inviting me to present the work of the European Committee on Crime Problems, the CDPC, at this Conference.

It is a great pleasure for me to participate to the third session of this High-level Conference on Environmental Protection and Human Rights. This is an issue which is - or at least should be - for all of us citizens of the World of a high priority. I am impressed to see today so many distinguished public figures from the Council of Europe, from its different member States as well as from other International Organisations. This is clearly a good sign showing that the protection of the environment is at the heart of our policy debate. 

Science is unequivocal. Nature is being destroyed faster than ever. There are huge concerns about the irreversible damage that environmental crimes are causing to the only planet we have. To give you just a few figures, illegal trafficking in wildlife threatens a third of the world’s species and over 80% of global wastewater is released untreated filling the ocean mainly with plastic waste and killing more than 100,000 marine animals per year. 

These crimes not only threaten our ecosystems and the survival of thousands of plant and animal species, they do cause many diseases that reduce life expectancy and ultimately, they cause the death of millions of human beings. According to the World Health Organisation, almost 20% of all deaths in the European continent are a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment. 

In addition to the tremendous damage they cause, environmental crimes are hugely lucrative. Europol estimates the annual value of transnational environmental crime from 70 to 213 billion USD per year. 

While these highly lucrative and dangerous activities have, in most cases, an international dimension, there is no single, strong international legal instrument which includes specific criminal offences and related criminal sanctions to counter environmental crimes across member states. The current legal framework is not enough, including the 1998 Council of Europe Convention on the protection of the environment through criminal law, which never entered into force. Perpetrators, including organised criminal groups, are taking advantage of the existing loopholes in environmental law to illegally discharge oil in rivers, to flood fields with illegal pesticides or to trade illegally with endangered species. 

As Vice-Chair of the CDPC, let me inform you that the CDPC will not remain passive in front of such terrible crimes. We have already begun considering this emerging threat and we are currently discussing which future steps are necessary to protect the environment through criminal law in a more effective way. This is still a work-in-progress, thus I’m not able to anticipate the outcome.

However, one of the elements that is being discussed is how best to strengthen international judicial cooperation, including amongst law enforcement, to counter more effectively environmental crimes. Special attention will be given to environmental crimes linked to organised crime and to those crimes related to transboundary pollution.

No State in Europe is immune to environmental crimes, even when they do not occur in their territory. Environmental crimes know no boundaries. Hence, a pan-European response is needed. When combating environmental crime, I would like to emphasise the need for effective and wide-ranging measures, including preventive measures, as well as extensive multidisciplinary efforts and cooperation. In addition, we should join our forces and strengthen the capacities of our criminal law “tool-box” to stop environmental crimes and the damage they cause, and to eliminate safe havens for perpetrators. If the CoE and the EU are to be leaders in countering climate change, the dissuasive force of criminal law should be used to give a joint and coordinated Continent-wide response. 

Fortunately, we are in the right place at the right time: momentum exists, especially from the youth, to change the status quo. The Council of Europe is the ideal forum to transform this momentum into reality. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is our individual duty as well as our shared responsibility to find effective solutions that will strengthen the criminal justice response to environmental crimes. The CDPC, which is the premier CoE standard setting body in the area of criminal law, will, I am sure, be up to the challenge. 

Thank you for your attention.