Arson & Environmental Crimes Against the Earth: Expert Interview

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“I am a father, not just a member of society. My conclusion is that a significant part of our greenhouse gas emissions are linked either directly or indirectly to illegal conduct. And there is nothing being done systematically to use the government’s powers to enforce the laws. It’s not that we don’t have laws, but there is an enforcement gap.”Reinhold Gallmetzer, Founder and Chairperson for the Center for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA)

The planet is changing due to human activity and not for the better. Nearly 100 percent of the increase in global temperatures is due to human activities. Consequences of this temperature rise include more severe storms, increased drought, rising sea levels, loss of species, and loss of food. The primary causes of global warming are burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agriculture and farming—all directly related to humans.

Some of the causes of global warming stem from routine activities and ways governments and societies have chosen to function. However, some of the global warming stems from illegal activities thanks to local or national laws. These illegal activities can and are being investigated and prosecuted as climate crimes.

Friday, April 22nd is Earth Day, and the theme this year is “Invest in Our Planet.” The website reads: “Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, our livelihoods.”

One way in which some people are tackling the climate crisis is by investigating and prosecuting climate crimes. However, litigating against those whose actions violate laws and harm the planet takes creativity, resources, and a lot of time.

Reinhold Gallmetzer, the founder and chairperson for the Center for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA), has been working tirelessly for the past four years to impact illegal activity that adversely affects the climate. While the CCCA is making a difference, Gallmetzer believes it is everyone’s job to get involved: “Everyone can make a difference. Don’t expect this problem to be solved for you by others. That is how I got involved, and that is why I built the organization,” he shares.

“Climate anxiety is a real thing. I believe the best way to deal with it is to learn as much as you can about the problem, understand it, understand what the solutions are, and then choose where you can use your skills and your networks. Yes, it’s a big problem. But, working towards a solution is the best way to deal with the anxiety rather than worrying about the problem,” encourages Gallmetzer.

Keep reading to learn more about climate crimes, how these crimes are prosecuted, and an example of the incredible work the CCCA is doing.

Meet the Expert: Reinhold Gallmetzer

Reinhold Gallmetzer

Reinhold Gallmetzer is the founder and chairperson for the Center for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA).

For the past 15 years, he has also been a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he is a Member of Prosecution Senior Management and the acting head of the Appeals Section. His responsibilities at the ICC include conducting written and oral advocacy on behalf of the Office of the Prosecutor before the Chambers of the Court (in particular, before the Appeals Chamber), leading strategic projects in consultation with working groups, and functioning as one of the Office’s key legal and strategic advisors for investigations and trials in all cases and situations before the Court. He currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands.

Center for Climate Crime Analysis

In 2018, Gallmetzer founded The Center for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA). According to the website, the CCCA is “a non-profit organization of prosecutors and law enforcement professionals designed to support and scale up enforcement actions, other forms of litigation and advocacy against illegal activities that are relevant to climate change and human rights.”

For Gallmetzer, founding the CCCA was part of a personal mission: “I am a father, not just a member of society. My conclusion is that a significant part of our greenhouse gas emissions is linked either directly or indirectly to illegal conduct. And there is nothing being done systematically to use the government’s powers to enforce the laws. It’s not that we don’t have laws, but there is an enforcement gap,” he shares.

Through his work as a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Gallmetzer saw a place where this gap could be bridged. “As I spoke to national authorities such as Interpol, Europol, and federal prosecutors focusing on environmental climate, the story that they all tell is that we simply don’t have good enough information and support. And this is when the idea for CCCA came up.”

According to their website:

[The CCCA] uses its law enforcement expertise to advise, support, and coordinate other organizations, and private citizens in their efforts to generate, preserve and collect information concerning illegal activities relevant to climate change. CCCA ensures that information collected by others is relevant, as complete as possible, and admissible and probative in legal proceedings. It also helps preserve relevant information that would otherwise be lost. In collecting information, CCCA heavily relies on the scientific and technological expertise of its partners.

“What we do is we strengthen and support enforcement powers of the state to play their role,” shares Gallmetzer. “We make our contribution, but we alone will not be able to solve the [climate] crisis. We developed our methodology based on the skill set that we have, but we work very much in partnerships because we are a relatively small organization. We have a huge network of organizations that want our support and advice in information collection and analysis. They would love to share information with us so that we can put it all together and pass it on to others who do the litigation and enforcement. So we really sit in the middle. We bridge this gap.”

How to Prosecute Climate Crimes

Climate crimes happen on a global scale and are not always easy to prosecute, so the CCCA has found a creative solution; instead of going after individuals or singular crimes, they aim to put pressure on the supply chain that relies on the goods produced through illegal means that harm the environment.

“The beauty of addressing illegal conduct is that it is very rational. They are tradable commodities. On my day job at the ICC, it’s totally irrational. It’s politically driven or ethnic hatred. It’s very difficult to really get to trigger change because these people are not rational. Whereas when we talk about financial incentives, it’s very rational. You know exactly where the pressure points are,” says Gallmetzer.

To accomplish this, the CCCA uses its members’ investigative research skills to uncover goods manufactured or produced through illegal means. “We have proven the concept, and we have achieved our first results,” boasts Gallemtzer. “There is an immense demand from our partners in law enforcement, civil society organizations, even private corporations that want to work with us to assist them in establishing facts to support informed decision making.”

He continues, “Many corporations now have very flashy sustainability goals, such as emission goals, but there is still a gap between nice goals and actual action. Very often, it is because they lack access to the right information and support to make the right decisions. This is why we use our skills to investigate, build case files, analyze the law, and make it available to law enforcement authorities. We also give our information packages to advocacy organizations to advocate rights, and we work with corporations in the financial sector who ask for our support to help them make the right decisions because they simply don’t have the expertise to collect and analyze information that is necessary.”

Brazil Deforestation Case Study

One area where the CCCA has been successful in helping to curb the deforestation of the Amazon is Brazil: “Deforestation and forest degradation contributes about 12 to 15 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions. It is much more than I had thought. At the same time that I learned this, I came across information that showed that up to 90 percent of the deforestation in Brazil, even up 95 percent, is linked to illegal activities. And that’s when I realized, okay, this is where our approach really can function. We can get access to information, build cases and make sure that the laws are enforced to trigger change,” shares Gallmetzer.

Gallmetzer goes on to explain, “Deforestation is driven by the demand for certain agricultural commodities. It can be timber, but in most cases, it’s beef. If there is an increased demand for beef, farmers convert forest into pasture land. What we do is use satellite imagery and remote sensing technology to detect deforestation. We can do that in real-time. We then link different data sets together and can tell when a certain pixel of forestry changes. That then creates an automatic alert that we link it to the land registers of the region to see whether there is a legal permit on it to deforest or not.”

If there is no permit, then they can continue their investigation. “Most deforestation in Brazil is illegal because there’s no permit or because [the deforestation] takes place on indigenous land or public protected land. We then track the supply chains of the commodities, the beef or timber, that come from that land, for example, to the slaughterhouses and further to the meatpacking companies and finally to either to the internal domestic market where it’s consumed or to export,” Gallmetzer shares.

“Through the financial flows, we can see who are the main players,” Gallmetzer adds. “In the beef sector, this is quite easy because there is a relatively limited number of players. Next, we look at their financiers, insurance, and lenders. Then we build cases, and we are very creative in using the law to tackle the phenomena of deforestation from many different angles.”

Once they have tracked the commodities and who is producing them, they work to cut off the supply chain: “We work together with the Brazilian federal prosecutors to address the deforestation at the slaughterhouses directly. We also look at the internal consumption of beef. Most of the beef in Brazil is consumed domestically, and it’s not exported. But the largest supermarket chain that trades in this illegal deforestation beef is French-owned. It’s a supermarket chain called Casino.” Gallmetzer notes.

“We made a case against them because in France they have a due diligence law which obliges French companies to complete due diligence in their supply chain. Which, in this case, they haven’t done properly. So we brought a case in France against the owner of the supermarkets.”

And grocery stores aren’t the only big players the CCCA has pursued: “We have shown the World Bank that they are not complying with their sustainable financing principles because the International Finance Corporation, which is a daughter organization of the World Bank, gave a massive loan to a meatpacking company in Brazil that is responsible for deforestation,” he shares. They have also addressed deforestation in Brazil by tackling the illegal import of deforested timer into Europe.

Another creative way deforestation has been approached has been through the border protection agencies in the US. They have shown that some imported beef was raised on farms that used forced labor, which violated the US Tariff Act.

If there is a way to prosecute it, CCCA will find it: “It’s the combined effort that will really have an impact,” says Gallmetzer. “We don’t want to try individual cases that may be symbolic and in the news for a day. We want to combine all possible efforts of enforcement authorities, advocacy, and voluntary measures by the big corporations to address this deforestation. And I think we’re making progress.”

What Can You Do to Fight for Climate Justice

Change that will impact the prosecution of climate crimes requires a team-based approach. “Our model is very much based on a participatory network approach. We rely on others such as grassroots organizations, advocacy organizations, or individual scientists to work within these networks to collect information and then to spread it,” Gallmetzer notes.

“Change will only happen when the key players and consumers realize that there is an issue, and they change their behavior,” he offers. “I’m not saying the consumers have the responsibility. That is a very cheap trick by some of the producers of fossil fuel who say to consumers that they need to reduce their carbon emissions and that they are just catering to their demand. The consumer doesn’t have the responsibility, but the consumer has power and a choice.”


Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson’s expertise and passion for investigative storytelling extends to the world of forensics, where she brings a wealth of knowledge and captivating narratives to readers seeking insights into this intriguing world. She has interviewed experts on little-known topics, such as how climate crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and has written for since 2019.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.