Environment Programme

Environmental crime is a serious global issue that has wide-reaching implications, not only for biodiversity but also for national and international security, social and economic development, and global health. Pollution of air, water and land, extinction of wildlife and depletion of natural resources evoke consequences on an unprecedented scale.

In order to respond effectively to environmental crimes, the international community has concluded a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) containing international trade-related provisions, such as the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer ; the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants ; the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Customs plays an essential role in the implementation of these MEAs and the fight against environmental crime. Therefore, the WCO has ensured over time that Customs remains at the forefront of actions taken to tackle environmental crime. Since 2001, the WCO has been an active partner in the Green Customs Initiative (GCI), a series of collaborative activities by partner organizations coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is aimed at raising Customs officers’ awareness of trade-related MEAs. Furthermore, in 2008 the WCO Council adopted a Recommendation concerning Actions against Cross-Border Environmental Offences, outlining steps to be taken by Customs administrations to enhance their capabilities in this area.

The Green Customs Initiative (GCI)

GCI is a partnership of international entities cooperating to prevent the illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive commodities and substances. Its objective is to enhance Customs and border control officers’ capacity to monitor and facilitate legal trade, and to detect and prevent illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities covered by relevant MEAs and international conventions.

These commodities include ozone depleting substances (ODS), toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, endangered species and certain living-modified organisms. The objective of GCI is achieved through awareness-raising on all relevant international agreements, and by assisting and providing tools to the Customs community. GCI is designed to complement and enhance existing Customs training efforts under the respective agreements.

The Partners are:

The Basel Convention, the Cartagena Protocol, CITES, INTERPOL, the Minamata Convention, OPCW, OzonAction, the Rotterdam Convention, the Stockholm Convention, UNEP, UNEP Ozon Secretariat, UNODC, and the WCO. 

In November 2010, the WCO and four other international organizations – the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank – founded the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), to provide more support to national wildlife law enforcement agencies as well as to regional and sub-regional networks combating the illegal trade in wildlife (i.e., fauna and flora). The ICCWC launched the Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit, which provides a comprehensive overview of issues related to wildlife and forest crimes, for use by government officials in wildlife and forestry authorities as well as Customs and other relevant agencies. Under the ICCWC Strategic Programme, the WCO implements various initiatives ranging from the development of training materials to conducting global enforcement operations.

In response to its Members’ growing need for support on environmental issues, in 2012 the WCO established its Environment Programme with the purpose of assisting Members in combating environmental crime, in particular the illegal wildlife and timber trade, and illegal trade in hazardous and other waste, and ozone depleting substances (ODSs). Not long after the establishment of the Environment Programme, the WCO began to implement activities under the INAMA Project. With this Project, numerous experts across Africa and Asia-Pacific were accredited by the WCO, enabling them to train Customs officers and to develop and establish a core of anti-wildlife crime experts globally.

Each year, the WCO Illicit Trade Report provides further information on every component of the Environment Programme.

Along with the various tools and instruments offered by the WCO to its Members, the Environment Programme uses the CENcomm Environet platform to interact with Members and Partners. This is a real-time secure communication tool for information exchange among all competent national authorities, international organizations and regional networks, serving to bring together focal points and experts from across the world. Furthermore, the WCO CLiKC! e-learning platform contains courses on MEAs and on Customs measures to tackle environmental crime.

Through its Environment Programme, the WCO constantly works on broadening the scope of partnerships with other organizations fighting environmental crime. Over the years, the WCO has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the CITES Secretariat, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat, UNEP, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, and TRAFFIC.

Having worked for many years to encourage policy makers to turn their attention to environmental crimes, the WCO gained additional momentum in June 2014 when the WCO Council adopted the WCO Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, demonstrating the global Customs community’s commitment to addressing these crimes in a timely, coherent and coordinated manner.

The WCO also signed the ‘United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration’ in London, United Kingdom, in March 2016. Signatories to the Declaration committed to cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking. Later that year, the WCO signed the Hanoi Statement on Illegal Wildlife Trade.

From training frontline Customs officers to continuously engaging with high-ranking decision makers, the WCO and its Environment Programme are determined to raise the profile of environmental crime as a crucial issue, and to provide Members with the support they need to fight against it.