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Environmental enforcement: overview of WCO latest and future activities

24 February 2021
By the Environment Programme team, WCO Secretariat

As part of the WCO Environment Programme, the WCO Secretariat is working to solidify the role of Customs in environmental matters. Customs administrations are regularly reminded of the importance of implementing the various environmental agreements in force, existing training material is updated and new material developed, exhaustive capacity building is provided, and enforcement operations are organized.

But more still needs to be done to ensure the implementation of the various environmental agreements. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned in 2019 that a “point of no-return” on climate change was in sight,[1] and the World Economic Forum reported in its Global Risk Report 2020 that environmental issues dominated as the most pressing compared to other categories of short and long-term risks (i.e. economic, geopolitical, societal and technological risks).

This article presents the latest activities undertaken under the Environment Programme and provides an overview of future directions. The aim is to encourage those Customs administrations wishing to strengthen their enforcement capacities to engage with the WCO Environment Programme team in order to discuss their needs and opportunities for improvement.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

A number of sub-Saharan African, Asian, and South American Customs administrations participating in the INAMA Project, which aims to enhance Customs’ capacity to counter wildlife trafficking by ensuring that all trade in wild plants and animals is legal, have been given the opportunity to follow training on the working methods used to combat fraud. These range from the identification of an offence to the storage of seized assets, including reporting, collecting and preserving evidence. This training has been developed and delivered as part of the WCO COPES Programme. To date, two workshops have been organized and held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An additional COPES workshop was organized for some administrations in sub-Saharan French speaking Africa under the auspices of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which comprises the WCO, the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the UNODC and the World Bank. ICCWC partners also organized several other webinars on a wide range of topics.

The component of the INAMA Project focusing on improving risk management practices in Malawi, Nigeria and Vietnam, and funded by GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation), came to an end in December 2020. An online wrap-up meeting was organized with representatives of Nigeria and Vietnam to review their experience and the progress achieved, and to discuss future activities.

The joint WCO-INTERPOL Operation THUNDER 2020 saw 103 countries rally against wildlife crimes. The operation resulted in over 2,000 seizures of wildlife and forestry products, with a total of 699 offenders apprehended. Seized contraband included over 1.3 tonnes of ivory, over 1 tonne of pangolin scales (the equivalent of approximately 1,700 pangolins), 56.2 tonnes of marine products, 950 tonnes of timber (the equivalent of 87 truckloads), 15.9 tonnes of plants, and over 45,500 live animal and plant specimens.

Illegal waste and substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol

Operation DEMETER, which dates back to 2009, is perhaps the most well-known face of the efforts deployed by the Customs community to implement the provisions of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, including the Kigali Amendment. This amendment commits countries to phasing down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which contribute to global warming and climate change.

Operation DEMETER VI saw the participation of 73 enforcement agencies from 71 countries, joining forces with regional and international partners. This concerted enforcement effort resulted in a total of 131 seizures, including more than 99,000 tonnes of waste and approximately 42 tonnes of substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol.

A number of articles have been published in recent issues of the WCO News[2] on illicit trade in waste, including one by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention explaining the latest developments in the international rules governing the transboundary movement of wastes, as well as the available support and activities. The issue was also discussed extensively at recent sessions of the WCO Enforcement Committee.

The future

Throughout 2021, the WCO Secretariat plans to expand its Environment Programme activities thanks to new funding. Among other things, it will:

  • continue assisting countries with building their enforcement capacities related to the fight against illicit wildlife trade. Funding has been received to provide assistance to the Customs administrations of Cameroon, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Peru;
  • support the Basel Convention’s Plastic Waste Partnership which seeks to promote the environmentally sound management of plastic waste by collecting and analysing information on transboundary movements of plastic waste, among other things;
  • support the Environmental Network for Optimizing Regulatory Compliance on Illegal Traffic (ENFORCE) established by the Parties to the Basel Convention. The WCO Secretariat became a full member of the Network in 2020.

GEt involved

Member administrations wishing to receive support in the areas mentioned above are invited to contact the Environment Programme team. The team has adapted its working methods and can provide support and training on a remote basis.

More information

[1] Manzanaro, S. S. 2019. “COP25 in Madrid: UN Secretary-General Guterres Says Planet Is ‘Close to a Point of No Return.’” Euronews, 3 December 2019. https://www.euronews.com/2019/12/02/live-un-leaders-anddelegates-arrive-in-madrid-for-the-climatechange-summit.

[2] See in particular the article by the WCO Secretariat on the need to collect more data in order to obtain a clear picture of illicit international waste flows

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