The growing blackmarket in ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs discourages companies from switching to other more environmentally-friendly substances, and the worldwide illegal trade in endangered species is thought be worth over $5bn, second only to the smuggling of drugs and firearms.
Launching the seminar, Combating Environmental Crime, environment secretary John Gummer said a few practical steps to improve enforcement could yield very high returns - and put the UK at Europe's forefront in the fight against environmental crime.
Mr Gummer also announced publication of a new DOE-funded handbook 'Wildlife Crime - A Guide to Wildlife Law Enforcement in the UK', the first-ever comprehensive source of information about all the legislation protecting wildlife in the UK.
'The central functions of government are to defend our country from attack, and to maintain social order. Environmental crime and combating it come precisely into this same category.
It is the first duty of government to ensure that the freedom and choice of its people are not irredeemably damaged by crimes against their environment.
'Illegal trade in endangered species, substances which deplete the ozone layer and hazardous waste undermines the aims of major international agreements aimed at protecting the environment. We have got to make sure that we in the UK are enforcing trade restrictions under these agreements effectively and look for any improvements in enforcement that can be made.
That is the point of this seminar, to focus on what we can do here in the UK to combat environmental crime.
'But we must not limit our horizons to the borders of the UK. In the long run, global environmental problems can only be solved by international cooperation and action. That is particularly true here in the European Community. The reduction of borders with the advent of the Single European Market makes it absolutely essential that we build up close working relationships with other EU Member States in order to police and track the movements of all illegally-traded goods.
'The UK can be at the very forefront of efforts in Europe to combat environmental crime. The practical approach we are taking here today is one we hope other countries will follow.
Mr Gummer continued: 'The worldwide illegal trade in endangered species is thought to be worth over $5 billion. The scale and nature of the problem was illustrated only last month when 127 rhino horns with an estimated value of about £2.8m was seized. Although sadly it was too late to save the rhinos themselves, making their destruction unprofitable isa key part of protecting rhinos in the future.
'This operation showed what can be done when organisations work together. We have strengthened coordination between the various agencies, including my department, the police and HM Customs, and this has paid dividends in the number of successful prosecutions.
'We want to see if we can increase cooperation in the other fields too, of CFC and hazardous waste smuggling. The illegal trade of CFCs is one of the newer areas of international environmental crime. The black market is growing. CFCs are believed, for example, to be the second most valuable commodity smuggled into Miami, exceeded in value only by cocaine. We believe this trade has spread here in Europe - and we need to nip it in the bud.
'CFC production was banned in Europe from the end of 1994, by the Montreal Protocol. But despite this ban we know CFCs continue to be widely available. Continuing low prices reflect this - and the continuing availability of CFCs is discouraging companies from converting to using alternative chemicals.
'A crackdown in the United States meant that the price of CFCs trebled within two months. We need better intelligence and more cooperation so that enforcements agencies across Europe can act together - and get similar results here.
'Similarly with waste-related crime, which is covered by the Basel Convention on waste shipments, and hazardous chemicals, we must make sure that imports and exports are properly controlled. As with the other areas, we must improve enforcement.
'A few practical steps to improve enforcement may well yield very high returns.'
Announcing publication of the new guide 'Wildlife Crime: Guide to Wildlife Law Enforcement in the UK', Mr Gummer said: 'Police Wildlife Liaison Officers - in the front line in the fight against wildlife crime - are responsible for enforcing what are inevitably complicated, technical controls.
'They want a central source of information about all the relevant legislation. That is why the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime decided to publish a practitioners' guide to wildlife law.
'The guide we are publishing today has been compiled by Michael Bradley-Taylor, former deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and I thank him for all his work. The guide provides a ready source of information and advice for police officers and other enforcement bodies. It gives information about the legal provisions that protect wildlife and it also gives pragmatic advice on the prevention, detection and prosecution of offences.
'Topics covered by the Guide include the controls on native birds, plants and animals. There are also chapters on habitat protection and on the international controls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). I am convinced that the guide will be a valuable tool in the fight against wildlife crime.