Last month marked the second anniversary of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime (EWC), a broad alliance of environmental, policy, legal, business and public health organisations and experts. Hosted by ADM Capital Foundation, EWC was created to address the serious gaps in the international legal framework for combating illicit wildlife trafficking and regulating wildlife trade.
According to the World Bank, illicit wildlife trafficking, together with illegal logging and fishing, has an estimated value of $1-2 trillion or more per year. This form of transnational, organised crime affects far more than just our biodiversity: it degrades entire ecosystems, frustrating global efforts to tackle climate change, increases the likelihood of zoonotic disease emergence, threatens regional and national stability, and undermines good governance and the rule of law.
The scale and impact of wildlife crime have not only been extensively studied and discussed, but they have also been recognised by five UN General Assembly resolutions. While there are many non-binding resolutions and initiatives in this area, we do not have a global legally binding agreement on illicit wildlife trafficking, as there is, for example, on human trafficking, migrant smuggling and firearms trafficking.
On EWC’s second anniversary, we celebrate the leadership of the countries that have led the way in promoting such an agreement, recognising the shortcomings of the current legal framework to prevent and combat illicit wildlife trafficking, and urging the international community to strengthen the legal framework.
On May 2021, the presidents of Costa Rica and Gabon, two biodiverse-rich countries, released a ground-breaking joint statement, calling for a global agreement on wildlife crime, in the form of an additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC).
“Given the scale of the risks to people and the planet, we simply cannot stand by and watch wildlife continue to disappear without strengthening our collective response, including international laws for combating and preventing wildlife crime”, read the statement.
Just a few months later, in September 2021 and then in February 2022, the presidents of Angola and Malawi joined the call, asking for preventing and combating wildlife crime to be embedded in the international legal framework.
As a member of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), with the right to submit new draft resolutions, Angola took the lead and tabled a draft resolution to the 31st session of the Commission. The CCPCJ is the principal policymaking body of the United Nations in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice, making it the natural forum for initiating a potential global agreement on illicit wildlife trafficking.
The draft resolution, which invited UN Member States to express their views on an additional Protocol to the UNTOC, was strongly supported by the governments of Kenya and Peru, both of which quickly joined Angola as original co-sponsors of the resolution.
After weeks of extensive negotiations, the resolution “Strengthening the international legal framework for international cooperation to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in wildlife” was adopted by consensus and ultimately co-sponsored by 12 more countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Honduras, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Paraguay, the Philippines and the United States. This is a considerable achievement. (Image: Cecilia Silva Bernardo, Director for Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Environment of Angola, Carlos Sanchez Del Aguila Minister Counselor, Embassy and Permanent Mission of Peru and Amina Ali, Second Secretary, Embassy/Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya in Vienna).
The resolution invites Member States to provide the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with their views on possible responses, including the potential of an additional Protocol to the UNTOC, to “address any gaps that may exist in the current international legal framework to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in wildlife”.
This is the first time that a UN resolution has mentioned a new global agreement on tackling illicit wildlife trafficking and the resolution has launched an inclusive intergovernmental process to explore the possibility of creating such an agreement. The resolution also invited Member States to submit their “experiences, good practices and challenges when preventing and combating illicit trafficking in wildlife, and their national legislation in this sphere”.
Over the next 12 months, in preparation for the 32nd session of the CCPCJ in 2023, Member States will formulate their views on an additional Protocol to the UNTOC on illicit wildlife trafficking and engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue.
The EWC will continue to work with the original co-sponsors of the resolution, Angola, Kenya and Peru, and offer its technical support and advise to any other Member State that may request it.
On behalf of the EWC’s Steering Committee, we would like to express our congratulations to the States that bravely led the way in this important endeavour, namely Angola, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Peru. We would also like to recognise our 27 International Champions and all of our supporters who have followed us over the past two years.
States have embarked on an historic process, recognising that moves towards the creation of a global agreement on wildlife crime will be a long and winding road. We are grateful to be able to continue on this journey with our many partners for another year as we collectively strive to #EndWildlifeCrime.
The Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime is Chaired by John E Scanlon AO and steered by;
 General Assembly resolutions 69/314 of 30 July 2015, 70/301 of 9 September 2016, 71/326 of 11 September 2017, 73/343 of 16 September 2019 and 75/311 of 23 July 2021 on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife.