The latest report on the efforts of the Green Scorpions to fight these threats in the 2013-14 financial year showed increases in the number of criminal dockets registered and those handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority, with a smaller increase in the number of convictions secured.
The Green Scorpions — formally called the Environmental Management Inspectorate — continued to focus on key sectors during the review period, and Ms Molewa said this had yielded improvements in the cement and refineries industries.
Ms Molewa said it is now widely recognised that the consequences of environmental crimes stretch far beyond ecological impacts, and have socioeconomic and health effects that disrupt entire economies and ecosystems.
Environmental crimes also undermine legal and environmentally sustainable activities, and reduce future options for the use of natural resources.
She used the example of illegal logging, which she said “contributes to deforestation, deprives forest communities of vital livelihoods, causes ecological problems such as flooding and is a major contributor to climate change”.
Illicit trade in ozone-depleting substances contributes to a thinning ozone layer, which causes human health problems such as skin cancer and cataracts. Soil and water contamination from illegal hazardous waste dumping can damage ecosystems and pose significant risks to human health.
The seventh National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report shows the number of criminal dockets registered rose to 1,862 in 2013-14, from 1,488 in 2012-13, while the number of finalised dockets handed to the National Prosecuting Authority rose 268 to 379.
The number of convictions obtained nationally rose slightly, from 70 to 78, and the number of acquittals was stable at eight.
The report also says 854 admission of guilt fines were paid to the value of R498,230, which is a drop from 993 fines worth R654,250 paid in 2012-13.
Admission of guilt fines are issued to minor offenders who are given an option to pay a prescribed fine instead of being tried by a court for that offence.
A significant volume of environmental enforcement work is done using administrative enforcement tools such as the issuing of directives and compliance notices, the report says.
Pre-directives and pre-compliance notices issued increased from 417 in 2012-13 to 495 in 2013-14, while final directives and compliance notices rose from 160 to 214.
The number of facilities inspected for compliance with environmental legislation was reported to be 2,018 in the pollution, waste and environmental impact assessment subsector, and 830 in the biodiversity and protected areas subsector. In total 1,539 instances of noncompliance were noted in the 2013-14 period.
Ms Molewa said as a result of follow-up inspections and ongoing enforcement, there had been a noticeable improvement in environmental performance in both the cement and refinery sectors.
“However, it was necessary to step up enforcement efforts in the ferro-alloy, iron and steel industry, which has the potential to impact significantly on the environment. A number of long-term criminal investigations related to this sector have been finalised and dockets handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority to consider prosecution,” she said.