Strengthening Linkages Between SDG 14 & SDG 16: Contributing to the Development of a Legislative Guide to Combatting Pollution Crime, and its Annex

Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster and Bolanle Erinosho

In November 2023, Hub researchers Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster and Bolanle Erinosho joined specialists from the Global North and the Global South, with expertise in a range of disciplines, at an Expert Group Meeting hosted by the by the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) to develop a Legislative Guide to Combatting Pollution Crime, and its Annex on the Pollution of the Marine Environment. This opportunity built on recent international engagements of the One Ocean Hub related to the Sustainable Development Goals, primarily those which explore the linkages between SDG14-SDG16.

Crimes that Affect the Environment Undermine the Sustainable Development Goals

UNODC is the guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, as well as the UN Convention against Corruption. Within this context, UNODC contributes to global peace and security, sustainable development and the protection of human rights by helping to make the world safer from drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism. To fulfil this mandate, UNODC provides technical assistance, research, and normative support to Member States to help them develop and implement comprehensive, evidence-based solutions to the complex and interconnected threats that they face at the national, regional, and global levels. One specific aspect of UNODC’s mandate is supporting Member States’ efforts to address crimes that affect the environment, including the trade or possession of protected or prohibited species of fauna, acts that cause environmental pollution or degradation, acts involving the movement or dumping of waste, within and across national borders, and acts that result in the depletion of natural resources.

Crimes that affect the environment undermine both lawful and ecologically sustainable practices, deprive local communities of vital resources and limit their access to legitimate income through traditional production activity. They also plays a detrimental role in exacerbating climate change by contributing to the release of greenhouse gases, disrupting ecosystems and interfering with the Earth’s natural processes. Consequently, they  can be an impairment to  achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is because crimes which affect the environment can deepen poverty, inequalities, and food insecurity, impacting economic development, eroding cultures, destroying livelihoods, and exposing the planet to a range of threats. These crimes often thrive in regions with weak governance, corruption, and limited law enforcement capacity, which undermine the rule of law and hinder progress toward the SDGs related to the achievement of peace, justice, and strong institutions (SDG16).

This was already highlighted in the Report on the synergies between SDG 14 and SDG 16 titled Connections that Matter: How Does The Quality Of Governance Institutions Help Protect Our Ocean?, which included contributions from various Hub researchers.

The Legislative Guide to Combatting Pollution Crime, and its Annex on the Pollution of the Marine Environment

UNODC has produced a series of legislative guides focusing on implementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime to prevent and combat crimes that affect the environment, by providing national lawmakers with concrete model provisions, national examples, and legislative guidance. Crimes that affect the environment are often serious, transnational organized crimes, and threaten the rule of law, governance, and national security; they rob local communities of their livelihoods and negatively impact social and economic development. These crimes are frequently interlinked with corruption and economic crimes, and the ultimate beneficiaries of these crimes often evade justice. A strong and adequate national legislative framework is at the core of any effective response to these threats, as they tighten the gaps which criminals exploit in national law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

UNODC has developed, and is in the process of developing, legislative guides, intended to support states in enacting or strengthening domestic legislation on various forms of crime that affect the environment, such as fisheries, wildlifewaste trafficking and now marine pollution. “Pollution crime” within this context, is a multifaceted term encompassing a wide spectrum of offences that result or are likely to result in environmental degradation and covers a broad range of behaviours aimed at circumventing environmental laws and regulations. These activities are often orchestrated by highly sophisticated and well-organised criminal enterprises and jeopardize the well-being of both natural habitats and communities, including but not limited to air pollution, water pollution and land pollution.

The Legislative Guide on Pollution Crime is expected to provide support to governments in the development or enhancement of national legislation aimed at addressing pollution, by drawing upon the legislative framework provided by the Organized Crime Convention to aid in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of pollution crimes. While the primary focus of the Guide is within the framework of the Organized Crime Convention, it also stresses an inclusive approach which takes into consideration other pertinent international instruments, standards, and documents. This ensures a comprehensive overview of good practices and recommendations that can inform responses to pollution crimes. The Guide will provide policymakers, legislators and legislative drafters who play a crucial role in shaping and implementing environmental protection measures across various sectors of pollution – namely, air pollution, water pollution and land pollution – with a tool to strengthen governance and law enforcement frameworks. Additionally, the Guide may prove valuable to various other stakeholders, including representatives from civil society organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector – all of whom contribute to the broader effort of combatting pollution crimes.

The Guide will feature chapters which consider international law and domestic legislation on pollution, and provide guidance and, where relevant, offer model legislative provisions on which legislative drafters can build in amending or developing legislation to prevent and respond to pollution crimes. For the first time, it will also feature an annex specifically dedicated to marine pollution, designed to provide context to the international law frameworks including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and associated obligations of States in tackling marine pollution. It includes in-depth insights into the unique challenges of the marine environment, guidelines to support legislative design and examples of best practice from national legislation.


The Guide will undergo revision and review by a variety of stakeholders, and is expected to be finalised in 2024.  Hub researchers will continue to contribute to this process and explore the ongoing linkages between SDG 14-SDG 16, including working on environmental due diligence and the respect for the human right to a healthy environment, and legacy actions which address breaking laws on the sea. This includes a new paper examining the role of women and girls as defenders of socially just governance frameworks in small-scale fisheries. We look forward to continuing our work with UNODC and other partners at the nexus between SDG 14 and SDG 16.

Illustration: Margherita Brunori

Related SDGs:

  • Good health and well-being
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions