ESA title

Environmental Crimes

  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 02-09-2019
  • Closing date 28-02-2020


Environmental crimes are illegal acts that directly harm the environment. They can cause considerable damage to ecosystems, increasing the risk of disease, environmental disaster, food chain contamination, pollution, wildlife degradation, reduced life expectancy, and increased rates of human morbidity. Environmental crime is the fourth largest criminal enterprise in the world (INTERPOL-UN).

The European Space Agency’s “Environmental Crimes” thematic call offers support and funding to companies looking to develop services that tackle environmental crimes using satellite technology in two ways: 

1. Directly preventing environmental crimes such as illegal trade and smuggling from occurring, by working with stakeholders in law enforcement. 

2. Helping industries to prove that they are compliant with environmental regulations, and therefore not committing environmental crimes.  

The call will be organized in three sub-calls, namely “Environmental Quality”, “Poaching and trafficking” and “Natural Resources”.


Environmental Quality 

  • Land Pollution. Criminal activities causing land degradation mainly relate to the trafficking in waste. Waste trafficking involves the improper management of waste (collection, transport, storage, disposal), as well as the illegal trade and movement of waste. Each year, trafficking of hazardous waste generates $9 billion to $11 billion (INTERPOL-UN Environment Programme). Illegal waste dumping, waste burning and waste exporting are also significant forms of environmental land crimes. For instance, in 2018, over 60 highly polluting fires took place in Polish waste dumps to destroy illegal waste brought in from other countries (REUTERS).

  • Water Pollution. There are three main types of water-related crimes:

- Water fraud involves the alteration of sampling techniques or results to avoid treatment costs. The main danger from these practices is the negative health implications. 

- Water pollution implies the intentional contamination of water, usually by companies or vessels. Oil-pollution crimes include illegal oil discharges, false statements or records, and bypassing pollution prevention equipment. 

- Water theft is the unauthorized use and consumption of water before it reaches the intended end-user. It is estimated that over 30% of the global water supply is illegally purchased. Regions experiencing chronic water stress (e.g. Southern Europe, Africa) and marginalized deprived areas (e.g. slums in India, Bangladesh, or Brazil) are particularly vulnerable.

  • Air Pollution. Illegal activity related to air pollution stems predominantly from industry reporting untruthfully on emissions or manipulating carbon credits. Some companies overstate their emissions estimates or engage in corrupt practices to claim or receive more carbon credits. Certain companies are involved in the sale of fake or already used carbon credits. Others manipulate carbon prices, allowing them to make significant profits. In addition to financial crimes, cybercrime has become an issue of great concern in carbon trading.

Poaching and Trafficking

The illegal trade in wildlife products is worth between $6 billion and $21 billion (INTERPOL-UN Environment Programme). The trafficking of animals and plants relies on a large and complex supply chain. It encompasses poaching, transport, exporting and selling. Several species are endangered as a direct result of these activities. Satellite applications can help to detect suspicious activity, prevent poaching and stop trafficking.  

Natural Resources 

  • Illegal Logging and Charcoal Trafficking. The illegal logging trade is worth between $45 billion and $173 billion annually (INTERPOL-UN Environment Programme) and threatens endangered species with extinction. Criminals often mix legal and illegal wood, making it difficult for authorities to detect the illegally trafficked items. They also use false permits to hide the origin or species of the wood, facilitating the traffic to international markets. Charcoal is the primary source of household fuel in Africa. The high demand for this valued commodity stimulates the illegal trade in Africa, threatening regional security and stability. The financial implications of illegal logging are weighty. Satellite technology can help to monitor forests, and to track legal wood and charcoal.

  • Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. 

IUU fishing exacerbates overfishing, depletes livestock, and affects the livelihood of legitimate fishermen. It poses a serious threat to food security and the conservation of the marine ecosystem.

There are three major types of unlawful fishing activities:

i) Illegal fishing, which occurs when a fishing vessel violates national or international regulations (e.g. fishing during unauthorized periods, fishing in protected areas or of protected species); 

ii) Unreported fishing, which refers to unreported or inaccurately reported fishing activities; 

iii) Unregulated fishing, which consists of fishing by vessels without declared nationality, or breaking laws that regulate fishing in a specific area.

  • Illegal Mining. Illegal mining falls completely outside the scope of any legal framework: it takes place without licences and in prohibited zones. It often involves organized crime groups. Satellite applications (especially Earth Observation) can help to detect and prevent illegal mining activities. 


Space technologies, like Earth observation, satellite navigation and satellite communication, can help to stop environmental crimes in many ways. 

Earth Observation (EO)  

Satellite Earth Observation data, coupled with additional data sources, can offer support to monitor and detect illicit situations at land and sea:

  • There is a growing trend towards oil exploration in deeper waters and more remote regions, such as the Arctic. Specialised Earth observation data is needed to monitor operations closely. 
  • Earth observation satellites could provide detailed images of hot spots where border crossings peak, as well as new roads, tracks and massed vehicles alluding to illicit smuggling or illegal trade. 
  • Earth Observation data can monitor air quality and water quality, (turbidity, suspended matter, chlorophyll-a, or harmful algae blooms) and can detect precise changes on land (deforestation, new activity in a ‘closed’ mine, illegal waste dumping).
  • Earth Observation data can support mapping in the forestry sector and could support companies in obtaining certificates and carbon credits.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) 

  • Vessels can be tracked via on-board automatic identification systems (AIS) and other tracking systems such as LRIT (Long-range identification and tracking) and VMS (Vessel Monitoring System) that are used to broadcast position, identity, course and speed. Ground stations and satellite navigation satellites can therefore track the movements of ships and detect if anything illicit is occurring. 
  • GNSS will provide geo-tagging services for data collection and tracking. Applications could include tracking wildlife (using collars or tags to send data via satellite to a desktop computer, increasing the ability to gather and analyse movement data) and tracing goods (like lorries carrying legitimate timber or fish stocks across the value chain). 

Satellite Communications (Satcom) 

  • Satcom can provide data, video and voice communications connecting aircraft, helicopters, ground vehicles and maritime vessels on border patrol. This enables widely scattered forces to share information and images, and to operate as a single unit.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are also active in border patrols and, when flown via satellite by remote operators, they can capture images and videos from the field, effectively extending the reach of border control agencies for thousands of miles. UAVs can also help with mapping forests, land and coastal regions. 
  • In remote areas, and where terrestrial networks are insufficient, satellite communications can provide secure connectivity. Satcom is especially useful when considering ships, offshore oilrigs, mining sites, and the wilderness (national parks, forests).


Kick-start Activities elaborate the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Space Flight Technology). This call for Kick-start Activities is dedicated to the theme "Environmental Crimes", which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services that help to solve the issue of environmental crimes.

The Environmental Crimes kick start is organised around specific topics, for which dedicated calls will be issued as follows:

1. Environmental Quality (Opening date 02/09/2019, Closing date 11/10/2019)

2. Poaching and Trafficking (Opening date 11/11/2019, Closing date 10/01/2020)

3. Natural Resources (Opening date 13/01/2020, Closing date 28/02/2020) 


  • 27/11/2019, 15:00 CET - Natural Resources (Opening date 02/12/2019, Closing date 24/01/2020) 



1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on ESA-STAR Registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)

2. Download the official tender documentation (Invitation to Tender) and create a ‘Bidder Restricted Area’ via EMITS Reference AO 1-10108 from November 11th 2019.

3. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if needed (see Authorisation of Funding section below).

4. Submit your proposal via ESA-STAR Tendering.  Deadlines are different for each call macro-area (see opening and closing dates above). 


Applications will require a letter of approval from the National Delegation of the ESA Member State where your company resides.

Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and the United Kingdom have pre-approved funding for this Kick-start theme. Switzerland is not supporting Kick-start Activities. 

In case you intend to submit a proposal and your company/organisation resides in another country, you need to contact your National Delegation as soon as possible.