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Environmental Crime  

Carole Gibbs and Rachel Boratto

Environmental crime is a complex and ambiguous term for several reasons. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for crimes related to biodiversity, wildlife, animals, natural resources, hazardous waste, banned substances, and environmental quality, but scholars have also developed typologies to capture the unique dimensions of each form of environmental crime. Disagreements regarding whether to distinguish violations of environmental laws (addressed via civil prosecution or administrative actions) from environmental crimes (criminally prosecuted), and whether to also consider environmental harms (legal activities that harm the environment) or environmental risks produce further confusion. The range of offenders also complicates this concept, as individuals, groups/networks, and powerful organizations commit environmental crimes. The degree of harm created by each actor may, or may not, be equivalent. Given the complexities of this area of study, scholars have developed and/or tested a wide range of theoretical perspectives on and interventions to address environmental crime. Consistent with conceptual disagreements, these theoretical frameworks and corresponding interventions vary (arguably the most) based on whether the dependent variable is environmental crime (as defined by law), or environmental harm or risk defined using other criteria. However, multiple theoretical perspectives/interventions are also examined within research on these broad categories of environmental crime, harm, and risk. In order to capture the breadth of research on environmental crime, we narrow the focus of this article to pollution related crimes (e.g., hazardous waste, banned substances, environmental quality). In the following article, we offer further detail regarding conceptual discussions, legal complexities, types of offenders, types of crime, and research on this subset of environmental crimes.


International Environmental Law  

Chenaz B. Seelarbokus

Over the course of the twenty-first century, international environmental cooperation has been spurred through various new international environmental institutions and programs, and a dramatic strengthening of international environmental law-making. With the burst of environmental treaty-making the corpus of international environmental law (IEL) has expanded to include significant international environmental agreements (IEAs) in the sphere of climate change, ozone layer depletion, biodiversity, and so on; as well as the recognition of important principles such as good neighborliness and the common heritage. IEAs function similarly to international treaties—indeed, the only difference between an IEA and other international treaties lies in the subject matter. IEAs function as the instrument for laying down the principles of international laws binding upon states was established by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Over the years, IEAs have not simply increased in number, but have also undergone an evolution in their structural design. In the early 1930s, IEAs tended to be simple in terms of their requirements, vague in terms of their objectives, and utilitarian in their ethos for protecting the environment. With time, however, as environmental sciences evolved to incorporate new principles and concepts, the structure of IEAs has followed in tandem to incorporate the new understandings and the new concerns.


International Environmental Conventions on Biodiversity  

Matti Nummelin and Niko Urho

Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity have been in the center of policy creation for half a century. The main international biodiversity conventions and processes include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its protocols, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), the World Heritage Convention (WHC), the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), and the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The governance of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) is also discussed, as political focus has shifted to the protection of the oceans and is expected to culminate in the adoption of a new international convention under the United Nations Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS). Other conventions and processes with links to biodiversity include the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Despite the multitude of instruments, governments are faced with the fact that biodiversity loss is spiraling and international targets are not being met. The Earth’s sixth mass extinction event has led to various initiatives to fortify the relevance of biodiversity in the UN system and beyond to accelerate action on the ground. In face of an ever more complex international policy landscape on biodiversity, country delegates are seeking to enhance efficiency and reduce fragmentation by enhancing synergies among multilateral environmental agreements and strengthening their science−policy interface. Furthermore, biodiversity has been reflected throughout the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and is gradually gaining more ground in the human rights context. The Global Pact for the Environment, a new international initiative that is aiming to reinforce soft law commitments and increase coherence among environmental treaties, holds the potential to influence and strengthen the way biodiversity conventions function, but extensive discussions are still needed before concrete action is agreed upon.


Air Pollution in Mexico City  

Ela Miljkovic

As in many areas of the world, in Mexico ambient air pollution is a pervasive component of the lived experience. Most conspicuous in large urban centers, air pollution flows across the diverse Mexican terrain, unifying the country’s political geography while also routinely permeating international boundaries. In Mexico’s capital, air pollution is unyieldingly stagnant and often lingers in the valley for days during winter temperature inversions and periods of low wind activity. Although Mexico City has long suffered from seasonal dust pollution, a consequence of the slow, human-engineered desiccation of the lakes that once surrounded the city, as well as from pollution naturally generated by the relatively more sporadic volcanic eruptions known to afflict the city and its environs, the mid-20th century spawned an altogether different, more human pollution problem. Driven by state-sponsored industrialization, population growth, and a rise in the use of motorized transportation, a phase collectively known as the “Mexican Miracle,” from approximately the 1940s to the 1990s, Mexico City transformed into an industrial powerhouse and the most polluted city in the world, the latter status officially recognized by the United Nations during the Earth Summit in 1992. The state, dedicated to carrying out its comprehensive modernization project, had left Mexico City’s air pollution to fester for decades, framing the legal protection of the environment—atmosphere included—as antithetical to economic growth. This rhetoric pervaded the ways that antipollution laws, passed in the 1970s and 1980s, were enforced. Though they set into motion important classification and monitoring efforts, for the most part air pollution control laws were poorly executed due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and the collapse of the economy, which halted spending on environmental protection programs. Other spheres such as science and environmental activism were also important in the history of Mexico City’s experience with air pollution, as actors within these realms contributed to the creation of air pollution knowledge throughout the second half of the 20th century. In their own ways, scientists and activists discursively rendered air pollution a threat to human life and the ecological future of Mexico City. From the 1940s to the 1990s, then, dirty air connected politics, science, and environmentally minded citizens in important and intriguing ways.


Law Enforcement  

Angus Nurse

Law enforcement can be considered in both the “narrow” sense of the policing and enforcement of law and a wider sense of the maintenance of order and reinforcement of societal rules and dominant ideologies. The maintenance of social order, protection of citizens, and prevention of and redress for harms against citizens, property, and nonhuman nature are heavily reliant on law enforcement. Effective criminal justice is arguably dependent on law enforcement as a dominant feature of criminal justice systems that adopt the notion of punishment as a tool of social control. Societal construction of harm and the definition of unacceptable behavior often manifests itself in laws, rules, and regulations that serve as both control mechanisms and expressions of societal norms. Where societal rules, in the form of laws and regulations, are broken, effective law enforcement is essential both to demonstrate societal disapproval of the “deviant” behavior and to provide for social sanction through appropriate redress and retributive justice mechanisms. Accordingly, law enforcement and policing are inextricably linked in the context of providing a means through which serious social harms can be dealt with. But law enforcement goes far beyond policing, both conceptually and with respect to the mechanisms that are deployed to express society’s disapproval and ultimately secure redress. In a narrow sense, policing can be defined as that which the police (or recognized policing agencies) carry out. This often centers around enforcement of the criminal law and a detection, investigation, and apprehension model inextricably linked to ideas of retributive justice. By contrast, law enforcement is broader, involves civil and criminal justice agencies, and can incorporate administrative and regulatory law mechanisms and even alternative dispute resolution as a means of resolving disputes and ensuring appropriate redress. Thus, law enforcement can also extend beyond the confines of retributive criminal justice to incorporate restorative and rehabilitative justice mechanisms to encourage compliance.


International Regulation of Ocean Pollution and Ocean Fisheries  

Peter Jacques

The World Ocean, the interconnected system of oceans and major seas on Earth, faces a major governance failure that has produced a series of catastrophic systemic changes to the marine food web and the water column across all scales. As each era passes, ocean sustainability has become less of a priority compared to economic extraction, though there were many institutions forged in the post-War period, and these are explained, concluding with the development of a purposefully weak effort to protect biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdictions. Fisheries are systematically mismanaged, and there are now serious concerns for large-scale, even global, fishery collapses. Longstanding pollution issues like oil pollution have improved, but a new class of “invisibles”—carbon dioxide, heat, nitrogen, and plastics—offer growing threats. The solution to these problems must be integrated, comprehensive, and ambitious—something the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction language does not promise.


The Economics of the Law of the Sea  

Till Markus and Gerd Markus

The Economics of the Law of the Sea (LoS) quite generally investigates how the LoS has developed in the past, how it functions at present, and how it could serve in the future. It explores economic factors that shape the LoS, assesses its economic effects, and evaluates different legal options from an economic perspective with a view to achieving specific goals. Accordingly, it can address a large variety of topics and pick from a wide range of ideas, analytical frames, and tools. Studies in this area can, for example, investigate economic drivers that have influenced the development of the modern LoS, analyze general economic characteristics of ocean resources, explore the economics of specific ocean-related activities governed by the LoS (exploiting the sea floor, fishing, protecting coasts against sea level rise, etc.), and assess important economic effects of selected LoS measures (drawing boundaries, creating marine enclosures, and establishing permit regimes). Economic analyses of the LoS are particularly valuable in linking information regarding facts and norms, for example, by illuminating the economic dimensions of conflicts to lawyers or translating specific regulatory approaches into costs and benefits. In this way, it may contribute to managing oceans more rationally, efficiently, sustainably, and peacefully.


The Allocation of Groundwater: From Superstition to Science  

Burke W. Griggs

Groundwater is a critical natural resource, but the law has always struggled with it. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the common law developed several doctrines to allocate groundwater among competing users. The groundwater revolution of the mid-20th century produced an explosive growth in pumping worldwide—and quickly exposed the flaws of these doctrines. Legal rules predicated on land and on surface waters could not meet the challenges posed by the common-pool groundwater resource: those of understanding groundwater dynamics, quantifying the impacts of pumping on other water rights, and devising satisfactory remedies. Unfettered by received property restraints, pumping on an industrial, aquifer-wide scale depleted and contaminated aquifers, regardless of doctrine. The groundwater revolution motivated significant legal developments. Starting in the 1970s, the Supreme Court of the United States adapted its methods for resolving interstate water disputes to include the effects of groundwater pumping. This jurisprudence has fundamentally influenced international groundwater law, including the negotiation of trans-boundary aquifer agreements. Advances in hydrogeology and computer groundwater modeling have enabled states and parties to evaluate the effects of basin-wide pumping. Nonetheless, difficult legal and governance problems remain. Which level of government—local, state, or national—should exercise jurisdiction over groundwater? What level of pumping qualifies as “safe yield,” especially when the aquifer is overdrawn? How do the demands of modern environmental law and the public trust doctrine affect groundwater rights? How can governments satisfy long-neglected claims to water justice made by Indigenous and minority communities? Innovations in groundwater management provide promising answers. The conjunctive management of surface and groundwater can stabilize water supplies, improve water quality, and protect ecosystems. Integrated water resources management seeks to holistically manage groundwater to achieve social and economic equity. Water markets can reward water conservation, attract new market participants, and encourage the migration of groundwater allocations to more valuable uses, including environmental uses. The modern law of groundwater allocation combines older property doctrines with 21st-century regulatory ideals, but the mixture can be unstable. In nations with long-established water codes such as the United States, common-law Anglophone nations, and various European nations, groundwater law has evolved, if haltingly, to incorporate permitting systems, environmental regulation, and water markets. Elsewhere, the challenges are extreme. Long-standing calls for groundwater reform in India remain unheeded as tens of millions of unregulated tube wells pump away. In China, chronic groundwater mismanagement and aquifer contamination belie the roseate claims of national water law. Sub-Saharan nations have enacted progressive groundwater laws, but poverty, racism, and corruption have maintained grim groundwater realities. Across the field, experts have long identified the central problems and reached a rough consensus about the most effective solutions; there is also a common commitment to secure environmental justice and protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems. The most pressing legal work thus requires building practical pathways to reach these solutions and, most importantly, to connect the public with the groundwater on which it increasingly depends.