A month ago, as the corona virus gathered steam, like many others we highlighted the role of the wildlife trade in human pandemics and epidemics and the need to close the wildlife trade once and for all. In just five weeks since that post, the corona virus has continued to sweep across the world increasing over 22 fold in infections and 42 fold in deaths.
China has continued in its quest to ban the wildlife trade, an enormous challenge in itself, given that the much needed legal reform will be pitted against trading interests including those of the powerful medicine industry. Banning the wildlife trade on its own, however, will simply not be enough. Enforcement will be key, as will a framework that can be adopted internationally to tackle the inevitable surge in wildlife crime as those with interests endeavour to supply the illicit demand. The insufficiency of the current global approach to wildlife crime has been at the forefront of civil society agendas for some time and has more recently been recognised by leading academics and the political fraternity.
In addition to the human health impacts we are seeing today, the alarming statistics describe the enormity of wildlife crime in terms of its value, loss of government tax revenues, its contribution to the global extinction crisis, the global economic impact and its links to nefarious activities of organised criminal syndicates (Box 1).
On March 3rd, 2020, at a meeting at the House of Lords in London, the need for transformative change and the means to achieve this was proposed by an alliance of conservationists, academics, and politicians calling for an international agreement to end wildlife crime.
Led by ADMCF, John Scanlon AO the immediate past Secretary General of CITES, and Born Free Foundation, the alliance proposes that wildlife crime is bought within the formal legal framework of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) via a protocol(s), thereby facilitating the broadening of enforcement powers globally.
Box 1. Wildlife Crime 101
- deprives Governments of an estimated $9-26 billion each year in fiscal revenues i
- is estimated to have an annual value of US$ 69-199 billion ii
- the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted dedicated resolutions on “tackling illicit wildlife trafficking” in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019
- around one million species face extinction within decades unless transformative action is taken to address drivers of biodiversity loss iii
- the current levels of wildlife crime are unprecedented and linked to organised criminal syndicates i,iv
- the World Bank estimates that Illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade have an estimated value of $1 trillion¹ or more per year. Most of the economic losses (> 90%) comes from estimated ecosystem services that are not currently priced by the market v
i) Nellemann, C. (Editor in Chief ); Henriksen, R., Kreilhuber, A., Stewart, D., Kotsovou, M., Raxter, P., Mrema, E., and Barrat, S. (Eds). 2016. The Rise of Environmental Crime – A Growing Threat To Natural Resources Peace, Development And Security. A UNEP-INTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme and RHIPTO Rapid Response–Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, www.rhipto.org
ii) As above
iii) IPBES (2019), Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service, Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, May 2019
iv) ADMCF (2018) Trading Trading in Extinction: The Dark Side of Hong Kong’s Wildlife Trade.
v) World Bank, (2019). Hong Kong Illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade: the costs and how to combat it.
Such a move responds to the fact that wildlife crime is currently addressed internationally via the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to facilitate sustainable trade. It may penalise non-compliance, but does not aim to criminalise, no matter how serious the contravention and the crime. As such, CITES regulates the trade in a limited number of wildlife species (36,000) but does not provide any protection for the vast majority of species threatened with extinction.
Nor does CITES address the persistent problem that wildlife illegally harvested in and exported from its country of origin, may legally be imported into another country because the species is not CITES listed. For example Hong Kong may allow imports of wood from Indonesia or shark fin from India, where these products have been illegally harvested and illegally exported, provided that the species are not listed on CITES and Hong Kong’s standard customs requirements are complied with.
In summary, the aim of wildlife crime being the subject of an UNTOC protocol would be to:
- recognise the scale of the threat to species, ecosystems, local and national economies and to public
- encourage and facilitate more countries to treat crimes that have an impact on the environment
- as serious crimes with consequent penalties;
- further embed combating wildlife crime in the criminal justice system;
- deepen international cooperation and the involvement of police, prosecutors; and other agencies
- enhance the overall law enforcement effort on wildlife crime.
Moving forward, we hope that countries will embrace and support this proposition and in doing so, provide the global criminal justice system with the tools that it needs to combat today’s unprecedented levels of wildlife crime and negate for the future, the terrible consequences we are experiencing today. As a founding member of the Alliance, ADMCF will work with it partners to gain international support for this transformative initiative.