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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Finland

Finland’s Constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. ​​Section 20 of the Constitution outlines the nation’s responsibility for the environment. It reads:

  • Nature and its biodiversity, the environment and the national heritage are the responsibility of everyone
  • The public authorities shall endeavour to guarantee for everyone the right to a healthy environment and for everyone the possibility to influence the decisions that concern their own living environment

  • Finland has adopted a comprehensive regulatory framework on environmental issues. Although mostly regulated through national legislation, a large part of Finnish environmental legislation is from the European Union’s laws.

    Featured Legislation

    1981:The Land Extraction Act was signed to monitor the use and control of certain natural resources.

    1983: Finland created the Ministry of Environment to set up departments focused on specific aspects of conservation and nature policy.

    1993: The Waste Act was enacted with the aim of governing general prevention of generation of waste and prevention of hazards and harm to human health and the environment.

    The purpose of this Act is to support sustainable development by promoting the rational use of natural resources, and preventing and combating the hazard and harm to health and the environment arising from wastes. This Act shall apply to waste, prevention of its generation and reduction of its hazardous or harmful property, promotion of waste recovery, any other organization of waste management, prevention of littering and cleaning of sites which have become littered. Waste means any substance or object which the holder discards or intends, or is required, to discard.

    1994: The Act on Compensation for Environmental Damage was created to enforce liability for environmental damage.

    1996: The Nature Protection Act was promulgated to oversee nature and landscape conservation.

    1996: The Forest Act was enacted to promote the sustainable management and the utilisation of the forests in order to produce a good output, maintaining their biological diversity.

    2000: The Environmental Protection Act was passed to govern prevention and control of pollution and prevention of generation of waste by certain activities. It also governs soil and groundwater conservation and remediation.

    2009: The Act on Remediation of Certain Environmental Damage was signed, monitoring remediation of damages to biodiversity and certain water systems.

    2011: The Mining Act was adopted to promote mining and organise the use of areas required for it, and exploration, in a socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable manner.

    2011: Water Act. This Act makes provision with respect to a wide variety of matters concerning the management, utilization and conservation of water resources. The purpose of this Act is to: 1) promote, organise and coordinate the use of water resources and the aquatic environment, so as to render it socially, economically and ecologically sustainable; 2) prevent and reduce the adverse effects of water and the use of the aquatic environment; and 3) improve the state of water resources and the aquatic environment. At the outset, the relationship of this Act with other legislation, and in particular with the Environmental Protection Act in respect of water pollution, is defined. The Act is divided into 19 Chapters: General provisions (1); Public rights, obligations and restrictions (2); Water resources management projects subject to a permit (3); Abstraction of water (4); Ditch drainage (5); Permanent alteration of the mean water level; (6); Regulation of water bodies (7); Utilisation of hydropower (8); Timber floating (9); Channels and other navigation areas (10); Application procedure (11); Corporation under water law (12); Compensations (13); Supervision and administrative enforcement (14); Appeal and implementation of a decision (15); Penal provisions (16); Provisions related to real estate law (17); Miscellaneous provisions (18); Entry into force (19). The provisions laid down in this Act on water bodies shall also apply to Finland’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. They shall also apply to water bodies and waters on the national border, unless otherwise provided on the basis of an agreement concluded with a foreign state. The Act also concerns protection of certain aquatic habitat types.

    2013: The Chemicals Act was brought into force to protect the environment against hazards and nuisances caused by chemicals. This Act contains provisions on the implementation of EU legislation on chemicals and certain national obligations in the sector of chemicals. The Act also implements the European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No. 765/2008 on the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • Finland’s National Police Board has reported an uptick in environmental crimes in the past year. A recent report by Finland’s National Environmental Crime Monitoring Group reveals that  the number of environmental offences, natural resource offences and health and safety offences provided for in the Criminal Code has reached a record high, prompting urgent action. Arto Hankilanoja, Chief Superintendent of the National Police Board, believes the rise in said offences is the result of more effective actions taken by the authorities to detect hidden crime; the active role of private individuals in reporting crime; and the increased financial penalties imposed under stricter waste management standards. Finland has been applauded for its governance models of environmental crime prevention, which focus on collaborative efforts between authorities, big business and civil society. For example, regional cooperation groups are established by authorities in the fight against environmental crime. These groups engage in the exchange of information between various stakeholders, leading to organized joint operations. Cooperation is perhaps the most effective tool for detecting environmental offences because it augments preliminary investigations that have already been launched. A recent investigation into the Illegal transnational waste trade in Finland has begun, allowing authorities to extend their reach through cooperation groups across different sectors.
    • A 2017:  Study conducted by Iina Sahramaki and Terhi Kankaaranta reveals the regulatory voids in the prevention of environmental crimes in Finland. Regulatory voids impact enforcement efforts related to the prevention, supervision and detection of illicit waste activities and, furthermore, waste crime in Finland. Based on a panel of 74 participants, the authors conclude that political, institutional and knowledge voids exist, leading to a  lack of consensus on what actions require regulatory enforcement. This, the authors argue, leads to severe challenges in the flow of information and insufficient resources. For example, Finnish legislation leaves room for interpretation, creating disagreement among authorities over whether a violation of environmental regulation is potentially a breach of criminal law and merits criminal investigation.

    References and Further Reading

    Contacts

    Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Department, Karoliina Anttonen (Senior Specialist, Legal Affairs): Karoliina.Anttonen@ym.f