Austria Establishes a National Task Force to Combat Environmental Crime

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: April 12, 2023; 23:21 ♦ (Vindobona)

The ministers of agriculture, justice, finance, social affairs, environment, and interior established an interagency task force on April 12, 2023.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (l), Agriculture Minister Norbert Totschnig (r), and Justice Minister Alma Zadic Presented the Action Plan against Environmental Crimes. / Picture: © BMI Bundesministerium für Inneres / Jürgen Makowecz

According to INTERPOL and the UN, environmental crime is the fourth largest form of global crime, with estimated annual damage of up to US$258 billion caused by species, nature and resource loss, and environmental degradation. Examples of environmental crime include soil pollution, air, and water pollution, or illegal dumping of waste.

"The consequences and effects of environmental crime affect us all, which is why the Ministries of Agriculture, Justice, Finance, Social Affairs, Environment, and Interior are making joint efforts to be able to combat this form of crime even more effectively. Inter-ministerial cooperation across authority boundaries forms the cornerstone of our actions," said Interior Minister Gerhard Karner at the press foyer following the Council of Ministers on April 12, 2023. "An essential prerequisite is the close cooperation of all authorities and NGOs at the federal and also at the provincial level. The action plan signed today is an important step in the right direction."

At present, 30 specialists in the field of the environment are available in the state criminal investigation departments nationwide, and there are about 500 specially trained "environmental police officers" in the districts. In the process, the police file around 1,500 reports under environmental criminal law each year.

One of the measures taken by the Federal Ministry of the Interior is to strengthen and anchor the issue of environmental crime in the basic and advanced training of all police officers. Both basic training and advanced training courses are to focus on this topic. There are also awareness-raising measures at the executive level. Further training will be provided in the form of e-learning modules, among other things. Another measure is to strengthen the investigation of environmental crime as part of the reform of the criminal investigation service. The number of specialists already employed by the police is to be increased significantly. By adapting structures, a larger pool of investigators is to be created and previously separate areas of investigation are also to be networked.

Similarly, the intensification and professionalization of crime scene investigations in environmental crimes are crucial. In this context, focal points with a special focus on crime scene work and securing evidence will be created so that police specialists are also able to secure important evidence in the regions. These serve to enable necessary initial measures to be taken even more quickly. In total, 12 contracting parties signed the action plan.