Cooperation on Transnational Environmental Crime: Institutional Complexity Matters

AuthorLorraine Elliott
Date01 July 2017
Published date01 July 2017
Cooperation on Transnational Environmental
Crime: Institutional Complexity Matters
Lorraine Elliott*
There have been clear calls for enhanced interna-
tional cooperation to meet the environmental, eco-
nomic and criminal challenges of transnational
environmental crime (TEC), defined here to include
illegal wildlife trade, timber trafficking and the black
market in ozone-depleting substances. In the absence
of an overarching international or transnational
environmental crime legal framework, institutional
settings are characterized by regime density and
complexity amid a growing number of actors across
related but distinct institutional settings. Scholars of
international cooperation have worried that this
kind of complexity leads to legal indeterminacy, nor-
mative ambiguity and regulatory uncertainty that
will make cooperation more difficult. In the TEC
sphere, these propositions remain under-researched
and untested. This article sketches the contours of a
study that would bring some conceptual and empir-
ical clarity to these issues. In doing so, it outlines the
constitutive elements of the TEC regime complex and
the nature of institutional interplay between and
among those elements.
Concepts such as international environmental crime
and transnational environmental crime
have gained
currency in criminology, governance and regulation,
global public policy, international political economy,
international law and conservation ecology. These
terms, which have slightly different meanings in a
legal context but which are often used
interchangeably in a policy context, have come to be
used as terms of convenience for various sectors of
illegal cross-border endeavour wildlife crime, forest
crime and fisheries crime, for example and as a
kind of collective noun for the criminal and other
activities that contribute to and sustain those sectors.
Greater attention to these issues from conservation,
enforcement and trade communities of practice has
generated calls for effective global and regional coop-
eration to combat such activities. There is an under-
lying normative research question: what kinds of
institutional arrangements are most likely to deliver
effective outcomes on transnational environmental
crime (TEC) in conditions of complexity and what
principles are most appropriate to guide global policy
making and cooperation on those outcomes?
In its exploration of what this means in practice, this
article starts from two rather obvious premises. First,
cooperation has policy, regulatory and operational
dimensions, directed at all points along an illegal chain
of custody prevention, interdiction and prosecution
with the overall aim of minimizing and, if possible,
eliminating illegal environmental trade and the activ-
ities that sustain it. However, we do not actually know
how much effective cooperation already exists in these
spaces. There is, therefore, an empirical gap in our
knowledge. Second, as Keohane and Victor argue, effect-
ive regulation and enforcement relies on a well-
developed understanding of institutional settings for
We need to know more than we already
do about the institutions, practices and norms that
frame and influence cooperation on TEC and we need
to understand their strengths, weaknesses and conse-
quences. This points to an analytical and, by extension,
a conceptual gap. Knowing more about such settings
enables policy makers to assess the effectiveness of
those settings and to make strategic choices about coop-
eration to manage uncertainty about likely gains and
exposure to risk.
One of the main purposes of this article is to explore
ways in which we might begin to answer these questions
and fill these gaps. It sets up a soft version of a
*Corresponding author.
G. Hayman and D. Brack, International Environmental Crime: The
Nature and Control of Environmental Black Markets (Royal Institute of
International Affairs, 2002); INTERPOL, Resolution No. 3, INTERPOL
Response to Emerging Threats in Environmental Security, AG-2014-
RES-03 (2014).
R. Michalowski and K. Bitten, ‘Transnational Environmental Crime’,
in: P. Reichel (ed.), Handbook of Transnational Crime and Justice
(Sage, 2005), 139; L. Elliott, ‘Transnational Environmental Crime in
the Asia Pacific: An “Un(der)securitized” Security Problem’, 20:4 The
Pacific Review (2007), 499; L. Elliott and W.H. Schaedla, ‘Transna-
tional Environmental Crime: Excavating the Complexities An Intro-
duction’, in: L. Elliott and W.H. Schaedla (eds.), Handbook of
Transnational Environmental Crime (Edward Elgar, 2016), 3.
R.O. Keohane and D.G. Victor, ‘The Regime Complex for Climate
Change’, 9:1 Perspectives on Politics (2011), 7, at 7.
Ibid., at 9.
ª2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
RECIEL 26 (2) 2017. ISSN 2050-0386 DOI: 10.1111/reel.12202
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law

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