Environmental law enforcement being the responsibility of states, the financial crisis has further weakened certain national authorities in their fight against environmental crime.
According to a February 2016 policy brief issued by the EFFACE (European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime):
“One overarching challenge is that the implementation of environmental law is a responsibility that is left up to the individual MS. The EU itself does not have the authority to enforce the provisions outlined in the EU’s legal framework and tools. As a result, the operation of enforcement institutions at the MS level varies and is uneven across the EU. Some MS have special investigative units while others have no environmental crime specialization. Evidence shows that many environmental crimes are not investigated or prosecuted by enforcement institutions for reasons of limited awareness, lack of resources and expertise, and complexity of establishing causality of environmental crime. The lack of financial resources is identified as a significant weakness or barrier to enforcement; this situation has become exacerbated in the recent financial crisis, at least in some MS”.
Fight against environmental criminality varies according to the prioritization of environmental crime at the level of member states. Some member states, such as France, Spain and Italy have special police units specializing in environmental crime. In Sweden, the National Environmental Crimes Unit is responsible for the specialised prosecution of crimes against the environment.
EFFACE stresses the need for civil society to be active in creating environmental democracy and strengthening environmental justice through information sharing and engagement. It also however highlights that individuals and communities are often the victims of environmental crime, as their legal rights are not well defined and understood.
EFFACE has published an action guide which analyses the crime areas of Illegal/unreported fisheries, Illegal waste shipment, Illegal pollution, Illegal logging and trade in illegal timber, Illegal wildlife trade, Industrial spill accidents, and the links of environmental organised crime. According to the analysis, “Second only to the trade in drugs and weapons, environmental crime is the largest illegal business in the world. It is global and often organised and transnational, and it is increasing. Even so, only a small portion of all breaches to environmental legislation is detected and leads to prosecution and conviction. Countering the problem will require targeted actions in the judicial systems, the security sector, industry, development aid and the research community, as well as improved normative harmonisation measures and enforcement coordination mechanisms.”
In 2012, the mounting evidence and reports on the level of environmental criminality in Europe led to the establishment of the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE). ENPE aims to support the work of environmental prosecutors, facilitate information exchange and share experience, support training and encourage cooperation between member states.