Opinion: Knowledge exchange at the forefront of environmental law enforcement

Wildlife whistleblowersThe International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) was formed in 1989 by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment on the need for greater collaboration between environmental compliance and enforcement actors globally. To date, it remains the only global organization focused exclusively on improving compliance with environmental law through effective compliance promotion and enforcement at all levels of governance. By partnering with the National Whistleblower Center, INECE hopes to help address the relationship between environmental crime, economic growth, and national security.

Environmental problems, particularly at the global scale, are incredibly diverse and complex. On the surface, pollution has little in common with biodiversity conservation. Even in the wildlife conservation field, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are so different that they often seem to belong to different planets. Moreover, the proposed solutions are equally complicated and fragmented across sectors and jurisdictions. Despite these differences, the last century has witnessed vast progress in establishing legislative frameworks for protecting ecosystems and species around the world. Legislation is often what attracts the most attention and acclaim, yet the true work of protecting our natural environment begins by implementing legislation, including enforcement, that leads to changes in human behavior.

The challenges faced in the implementation of environmental law arise in part from the complex nature of environmental issues. The lack of the specialized knowledge required to evaluate specific types of environmental harm among law enforcement actors significantly hinders the application of existing laws. Further, the overlapping and convoluted scales at which environmental harm occurs complicates questions regarding jurisdiction and governance.

Strategies to ensure compliance with environmental laws are traditionally conceived to be top-down. Yet, in countries with nascent legal frameworks for environmental protection or where rule of law is lacking, the voices of people on the front lines are crucial to ensure transparency and accountability. The implementation of these laws goes beyond centralized enforcement; it requires ongoing local cooperation, engagement and education. Environmental issues such as pollution, biodiversity conservation and resource protection, necessarily require some decentralized action due to geography. Local populations play a key role in monitoring violations and reporting crimes, given that they are often the first victims. These disparate communities of advocates must be brought together to increase the effectiveness of legal frameworks for environmental protection.

The danger of being a whistleblower in many parts of the world is a clear indicator of weak legislation. In these cases, law enforcement bodies willfully ignore environmental violations, and those that point out shortcomings are framed as the enemies of the law rather than its greatest champions. Addressing the problem at a national level is challenging, as independence and transparency can be hard to ensure. International, extra-governmental approaches are necessary to align the interests of whistleblowers with actual implementation of environmental laws.

Partnerships between organizations such as the National Whistleblower Center and the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) help develop a global approach to protect environmental whistleblowers by actively recognizing their role in environmental law enforcement. As international networks, we foster greater collaboration and communication between stakeholders and create an environment to empower whistleblowers, that could also include financial rewards.

INECE builds international capacity to address the knowledge gaps that impair environmental enforcement, compliance, and knowledge transfers by directly supporting relevant actors, including environmental regulators, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and NGOs. We recognize the valuable role whistleblowers play in exposing unfair or inadequate implementation measures and are exploring new avenues to engage non-traditional enforcement agents who influence environmental accountability around the world. By providing a platform for these stakeholders to communicate and share knowledge, we facilitate the articulation of well-formulated and enforceable legislation, the proliferation of effective enforcement techniques, and enabling conditions for environmental laws.

The efforts conducted by INECE rely on the expertise and participation of its members, and we welcome and actively seek more collaborators. Please email inece@inece.org if you have any questions, are interested in joining the Network, or would like more information about any of its upcoming events. For monthly updates via e-mail, please subscribe to INECE’s newsletter.

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