blog 26.02.2024


Environmental corruption at CoSP10: growing awareness helps to build bridges between institutions

By Isabella Romero

The 10th Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption (CoSP10) in December 2023 provided a platform dedicated to addressing environmental corruption. This crucial gathering shed light on the global role and impacts of corruption that facilitates environmental crimes or otherwise leads to environmental harm.

It also put forward practical strategies to harness the provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) for more effective action on environmental corruption. While formal recognition of environmental corruption by states parties to the UNCAC is still lacking, the focus on the environment at CoSP10 was a step in the right direction.

Over the past five years there has been a surge in collaboration among non-governmental organisations, civil society entities and states parties. This united front points to a growing recognition of the urgency of addressing environmental crimes and corruption. The CoSP acted as a catalyst for this momentum, serving as a vibrant space for debate and reflection, where diverse expertise and valuable knowledge were shared to explore optimal solutions.

A series of special events on environmental corruption at the CoSP included a high-level event on Monday 11 December and four topic-specific events on Wednesday 13 December. The recordings from these sessions are available on YouTube.

The multi-faceted reality of environmental corruption

Elizabeth Hart, Chief of Party of the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption project and representing the Countering Environmental Corruption Practitioners Forum, emphasised how corruption facilitates environmental crime and identified critical gaps in existing anti-corruption initiatives. Hart stressed the need to move beyond merely understanding the impact of these crimes to looking at the systemic environmental challenges they create.

She discussed the consequences of land corruption and land grabbing in vulnerable contexts, and the impact this has on the climate crisis.

Concerns were also raised about climate adaptation funds, where corruption undermines environmental conservation efforts. There was an urgent call to bolster support for civil society in the fight against corruption. Transparency International's findings revealed a startling 35 percent embezzlement rate of climate adaptation funds in Bangladesh, leading to an 80 percent inefficiency rate in related projects.

Roadblocks in investigation and enforcement

In the panel “Good practices and opportunities in preventing and combating corruption to protect the environment”, Juhani Grossmann, Head of the Green Corruption programme at the Basel Institute on Governance, provided an overview of enforcement experiences worldwide and the Basel Institute’s efforts to support these.

Some of these experiences are showcased in a dedicated working paper that analyses the implementation of the 2019 CoSP Resolution 8/12 on “preventing and combatting corruption related to crimes that impact the environment”.

Presenting three different realities in the world of enforcement measures, Grossman showed the need to diversify the support and assistance provided. On the one hand, he said, some countries are successfully applying traditional anti-corruption tools such as money laundering investigations, bribery and fraud detection, and tax evasion prevention measures to the environmental sector.

However, challenges arise when natural resource and environmental agencies shift towards enforcement functions as they lack the expertise and tools necessary for robust financial investigations and to prepare criminal cases. And while some jurisdictions allow private prosecutions – giving civil society organisations an active role in enforcement efforts – others do not.

The specific cases that show how complications in enforcement can be managed have been discussed in detail over the past year in the Follow-the-Money working group, part of the Countering Environmental Corruption Practitioners Forum.

Creating spaces for collaboration

CoSP10 highlighted the importance of collaboration, innovation and multifaceted approaches to combat environmental corruption. As dialogue continues and collective efforts amplify, these discussions pave the way for a more robust, unified front against environmental corruption.

The Practitioners Forum offers an open space for practitioners and policy makers from all sectors to share experiences and the challenges they face. Four thematic working groups discuss topics related to following the money, land corruption, climate finance and open data.

Just a year old, the Forum is already proving that it is possible to reach across silos between the environmental and anti-corruption fields to find solutions to environmental corruption that work in practice.

Interested in joining? Learn more and sign up here!