Climate · August 3, 2022

France: environmental damage up 7% in five years, according to the Ministry of the Interior

According to figures from Place Beauvau, environmental offenses and contraventions have increased by 1.3% per year on average between 2016 and 2021. Illegal logging and mining represent a quarter of offenses.

Statistics on environmental crime are delivered bit by bit by the government. The publication by the Ministry of the Interior, of an initial inventory of environmental damage between 2016 and 2021 is all the more interesting. And this, even if these figures do not retrace all of the environmental delinquency.

These statistics only relate to attacks recorded by the police and gendarmerie services, i.e. a small half of the offenses dealt with by the public prosecutor’s offices. The others can be observed by the customs services, environmental inspectors from the French Biodiversity Office (OFB), agents from the National Forestry Office (ONF) or even by the municipal police. Furthermore, these figures relate to recorded offences, associated victims and persons implicated in these offences. But not all of them will be found guilty by the courts. In a note on the handling of environmental criminal litigation, published in April 2021 by the Ministry of Justice, it emerged that only 16% of perpetrators of environmental damage were prosecuted before the courts. courts.

Sharp rise in pollution and waste violations

It remains that the figures produced by the Ministry of the Interior are interesting in relation to the trend they draw, the types of damage to the environment and the profile of offenders. As for the trend, they reveal a 7% increase in offenses between 2016 and 2021, an average increase of 1.3% per year. However, the evolution is not homogeneous according to the categories of offenses considered. Thus, those related to pollution and waste recorded an increase of 96 and 63% respectively. Conversely, those related to logging or mining, as well as hunting and fishing, recorded a drop of 11 and 18% respectively.

The increases recorded for certain offenses may result from the law of 24 December 2020 on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which created specialized jurisdictions in environmental matters, but also from an increased sensitivity of the population to environmental issues and the animal cause, advance the authors of the analysis. The 64% increase in acts of pollution in 2021, compared to the previous year, could also be explained by the creation of a 4th class fine sanctioning the disposal of bio-waste by burning in the open air by a implementing decree of the Agec law. “The use of this new offense explains 92% of the overall increase observed”, report the editors of the note.

Damage to natural resources

If we now look not at the evolution but at the distribution of the 31,400 offenses recorded by the police and gendarmerie services over the year 2021, we see that the most represented category is that of attacks on natural resources (45 %), followed by those to animals (34%), then non-compliance with prevention rules (11%), waste (4%) and pollution (4%). The distinction between these last three categories is however not easy, since the prevention rules cover the regulations in terms of fire, but also pollution, dangerous substances and classified installations (ICPE). Offenses related to the trade and possession of protected species represent 1% of offences.

These offenses are divided between 62% offenses, the most serious, and 38% fines. They are mostly (64%) found in rural areas and in towns with less than 10,000 inhabitants. The offense rate in rural municipalities is 9.3 per 10,000 inhabitants, compared to 4.5 for the whole of the national territory. Guyana stands out with a rate of 42 offenses per 10,000 inhabitants, which is mainly explained by illegal mining, and Corsica by an offense rate of 18, mainly linked to offenses against fire regulations and mining. illegal logging.

Another geographical particularity: the rates of forest-related offenses are higher on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts.

86% men

These statistics also make it possible to identify a typical profile of the environmental offender in terms of age and gender. In 2021, 92% of defendants for environmental offenses were natural persons. Of these, 60% were between 30 and 59 years old, and 86% were men. These figures corroborate those of the Ministry of Justice, which had also noted an overrepresentation of men (89%) and forty-somethings in the cases handled by the prosecution.

While the average share of legal persons among the defendants is 8%, this proportion varies greatly depending on the type of offense observed. It is higher for pollution offenses (24%), failure to comply with preventive measures (19%) and offenses related to waste management (14%).

In addition, the sectors most represented among legal persons are the agricultural sector (14%), the automotive sector (8%), public works (7%) and construction (7%). The agricultural sector is over-represented, compared to its average share, in offenses in the category “Other natural resources [than forestry and mining]” and acts targeting animals. The automotive sector and the building sector are, for their part, among the offenses related to waste. Finally, the public works sector is over-represented in the “Prevention rules” category, ie regulations relating to waste, hazardous substances, animal diseases and fires.