"While US climate legislation languishes, the rest of the world is already taking the next step—educating police on how to keep criminals out of the global carbon markets. In Lyon, France last month, undercover agents specializing in wildlife smuggling rubbed elbows with financial sleuths at a conference sponsored by INTERPOL intended to highlight the
- increasing complexity of environmental crimes
- "Governments should start preparing for an onslaught of environmental court cases," said Bakary Kante, head of the United Nations Environment Programme's environmental law division.
- strategies to fight global environmental crime networks.
Inside, police sounded much like environmental advocates as they talked about the need to be vigilant and share intelligence about environmental abuses. "We have to prove, and prevent, murder in the future," is how M.C. van Leeuwen, an investigator with the Netherlands National Police, described the challenge of environmental policing. Following the evidence to prove liability can be challenging, he said, and it often gets down to
A polluter's fingerprints may have been laid down decades before. Front companies, foreign registries, and the like tend to obscure liability. Uncertainties surrounding the science of toxicology can make establishing cause and effect difficult.
All those challenges are compounded as Lindemulder and others seek to expand Interpol's mandate into an
- entirely new terrain: crime in the global carbon markets.
- "When there's this amount of money involved," Lindemulder commented,
- "criminals get interested."
Lindemulder explained that agents from traditional environmental enforcement agencies are now compelled to understand the complexities of global finance.
- "The carbon markets involve so many parties, so many new instruments and forms of vulnerability that we haven't been aware of before."
- The complexity of the carbon markets,
- which operate with ambiguous oversight,
- presents an array of new opportunities for fraud,
- Take the rapid growth of interest in tropical forests serving as "offsets" to companies' carbon emissions.
In countries where land ownership is often disputed, the possibility for fraud is considerable, he said. "In effect, you could be falsifying ownership in something you can see in order to sell something that you can't.
- And then inserting that into the carbon markets and selling it to people."
Such a scenario is not as far-fetched as it may sound. The Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit in the
- City of London Police force is investigating allegations that a London-based offset developer,
- Carbon Harvesting Company, may have improperly claimed access to the forests of Liberia
- in order to sell the carbon rights to European and other companies.
In other instances, traders have generated hundreds of millions of euros in illicit profits by pocketing unpaid taxes—for instance, in a case that revealed
- more than 80 percent of carbon trading houses in Denmark were fronts for tax fraud.
"As the price of carbon increases, we know that the more lucrative it becomes,
- the more criminals will be attracted to the market," noted the UK's new environmental minister, Lord Chris Smith.
"We need to be way ahead of the criminals in thinking about what they're likely to do—whether trafficking in endangered species, in e-waste, or what might happen in carbon trading as it becomes an increasingly valuable commodity."
"This article was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.