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Governments must combat illegal wildlife trade

Time is of the essence. Current international efforts remain insufficient. Many species exploited by the transnational illegal wildlife trade cannot afford to wait another 20 years before serious action is implemented on the ground.

London in 2014 saw the unprecedented gathering of the heads of state of over 40 countries to express their concerns and share their commitment to tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Worth up to $23 billion a year, this insidious transnational and organised crime sector, the world’s fourth most lucrative, threatens the existence of hundreds of species and the ecosystems upon which they rely. Further, illegal wildlife trade fuels corruption, exacerbates climate change, drives socioeconomic inequality and fundamentally undermines the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Declaration adopted at the London Conference acknowledged the serious nature of wildlife trafficking, and called for a broad range of actions.

From the London Conference and Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade in 2014; through follow up Conferences in Kasane and Hanoi, the EU Action Plan to the UNs General Assembly Resolution and statements from ASEAN accepting wildlife trafficking as a priority transnational crime, wildlife trafficking and its severity has received increased attention on the international circuit over the past two years maintaining momentum on the global political stage.

Despite such increased political attention, has anything really changed on the ground? Commitments made in the 2014 London Declaration have been made repeatedly with the role of organised crime in illegal wildlife trade highlighted as early as 2001 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In light of these concerns, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), conducted an independent assessment of the implementation of the London Declaration and published its findings in a new report, “Time for Action”. It clearly shows that despite some positive developments in the international response to combat the illegal wildlife trade, generally national and international efforts remain woefully inadequate and desperately overdue.

EIA released Time for Action at the Hanoi IWT Conference in November 2016. The Conference in Hanoi on Illegal Wildlife Trade did little to mitigate the apparent inertia at the heart of the international community to adopt time bound actions to enable effective and rapid solutions to address wildlife trafficking.

The Statement that came out of the Hanoi Conference recognised the detrimental impacts of wildlife crime and the general need to amend legislation and improve enforcement efforts but without any defined, time bound actions. This was far from adequate. Notable as exceptions, depressingly, only a few countries, like Germany, the US and Malawi, committed to specific actions to combat wildlife trafficking.

Species affected by wildlife trafficking cannot afford such continued levels of inaction. Since all pangolin species were up-listed to appendix 1 by CITES at the end of 2016 over 14 tonnes of pangolin scale have been seized accounting for over 20,000 pangolins, 2016 saw tigers in India experience the worst year of poaching in recent memory, the illegal trade in the swim bladders of the endangered totoaba looks to confine the remaining 30 vaquita to almost certain extinction, whilst savannah elephants have experienced the worst population decline in 25 years with forests elephants suffering even greater losses.

The next follow-up conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade will be held in London in 2018. Here we must ensure governments commit to clear time bound actions measured against indicators developed by the professional law enforcement community. This is an imperative not only to turn the tide in a battle currently being lost to stop illegal wildlife trade, but to also enable countries to be held accountable for the actions, or lack thereof, to which they persistently commit but seem reluctant to enact. Current trends cannot continue. Curbing wildlife trafficking and reversing the low risk high profit nature of this organised crime sector must remain a priority. In a world experiencing increasing environmental pressures and in rapidly changing geopolitical and socioeconomic climates it would be easy for the illegal wildlife trade to fall off the political agenda. It is up to all of us to ensure it does not.

Matthew Lowton

Campaigner, Environmental Investigation Agency

Find EIA on twitter: @EIAinvestigator

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.