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The Police Force as First Responders to the Climate Emergency

The primary duty of the police service is to protect the public by detecting and preventing crime. Climate change poses one of the most serious regional and global threats to security today and the police force are first responders that deal with the impact climate change is having on our environment and our society. But how can they help?

What is climate change?

Climate change is one of the most pressing global issues and threats to humanity as we know it. It causes melting ice-caps, mass deforestation, loss of biodiversity, raging wildfires and unpredictable and extreme weather. These effects are increasing rapidly due to human activity and if no action is taken it will keep getting worse.

Raising awareness about these issues is incredibly important and the more organisations and people that do so, the better. Having large organisations such as law enforcement implement regulations to help prevent climate change is what society needs to see as it sets an example. Their job is to protect and prevent, so let’s see them do so by enforcing environmental laws and becoming more sustainable.

How can the police respond to the effects of climate change?

Around the world, climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events, such as droughts, fires, flooding and storms, all of which have devastating impacts on the environment and its inhabitants. And among the first responders to events like these are the police.

As the impact of climate change increases, law enforcement is more likely to be responding to these natural disasters by supporting evacuations, aiding recovery efforts, identifying missing persons, addressing theft and plundering, etc. Not only does the climate crisis have these immediate effects, but research shows that following a natural disaster, crime rates increase, most notably in property crime and domestic abuse.

One example of the police having to respond to environmental crimes to help reduce the impact of climate change is in France. Following the droughts in 2022, France authorised a ‘police of the environment’ to enforce a restriction on water consumption. While its main duty is to raise awareness, the police can issue a fine of up to 7,500 euros for breaches in water consumption. Since May 2022, 1,700 of its inspectors have already conducted more than 4,000 interventions.

One downfall that the police inevitably will have is that they often respond to issues rather than target them before they occur. However, creating these laws and regulations to further restrict the effects of climate change will be effective in the long te

rm, and although the example in France was in response to a previous issue, the regulations put in place will prevent further damage.

Does environmental crime need to be more heavily regulated?

As public awareness of climate change increases, there is a growing want for the prioritisation of enforcing environmental crime legislation. Environmental crime includes activities such as illegal logging; illicit wildlife trade; illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; illegal mining; and pollution crimes, all of which have been proven to intensify climate change and undermine mitigation efforts.

One crime in particular that has had a recent emergence is ecocide, which refers to:

“Unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage being done to the environment being caused by those acts”

The concept dates back several decades but has been gaining momentum recently as advocates are pushing for its inclusion as a fifth offence prosecutable by the International Criminal Court, which would make it a global offence. If implemented these actions could have massive legal sanctions on:

  • Ocean damage: industrial fishing, deep-sea mining, and plastic pollution

  • Deforestation: industrial farming, mineral extraction, and wood production;

  • Land and water contamination: agricultural pollution, and damage to river systems

  • Air pollution: radioactive and industrial contamination

To target these issues in Israel, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has created an enforcement and deterrence unit called the Green Police. This specialised police unit aims to focus on environmental crime by opening cases that negatively affect the environment, banning the use of vehicles whose emissions exceed allowed standards and handing down administrative orders to remove waste.

How can law enforcement transition towards green policing?

Law enforcement agencies can start adopting more environmentally friendly and sustainable models of policing in daily operations to transition towards a green model of policing.

For example, Scotland became the first country in the world to declare climate emergency in 2019, legally committing to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. They aim to decarbonise their fleet, hoping to operate with ultra-low emissions vehicles, provide sustainable housing for their police force, work closely with communities to generate their own renewable energy, minimise waste by reusing and using products that can be easily maintained and upgraded.

Having a police force implement these aspects of sustainability not only helps reduce climate change as a whole but sets an example for the rest of society.


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