- According to a report issued jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the international police agency Interpol, environmental crime is now estimated to be worth between $91 and $258 billion annually, with the illegal wildlife trade estimated to represent $7 to $23 billion of that total.
- The global illegal wildlife trade continues to grow thanks to the high profits and minimal risk involved, says the EIA, which published a report ahead of the Hanoi Conference that looked at public policies as well as records of thousands of seizures, arrests, and prosecutions in 15 different countries that are key players in the illegal wildlife trade.
- Records examined by EIA show that there hasn’t been any meaningful dip in the rate at which a number of key species are being illegally traded since the London Declaration was signed in 2014.
The London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, held in February 2014, was welcomed by environmentalists as a signal that world leaders were finally getting serious about tackling international wildlife crime. But now those environmentalists are warnings that, despite the commitments being made, there is still a dearth of action to combat the illegal trade that is decimating wildlife around the globe.
A 2015 follow-up conference held in Kasane, Botswana concluded with a statement that recognized the progress made by countries toward implementing the commitments they had made in the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade, but also pointed out that much more needed to be done.
The Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade held last month in Vietnam opened with a call to arms by the UK’s Prince William, who said, “The truth is we are still falling behind. A betting man would still bet on extinction.” But the Hanoi Statement adopted by 41 countries and the European Union once again failed to adequately address the urgency of the situation, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
“While recognising the detrimental impacts of wildlife crime and the need to improve legislation and enforcement efforts, the Statement merely calls for the international community to commit to actions — whatever they may be — to combat illegal wildlife trade, without specifying what those actions should be,” the EIA said in a statement.
According to a report issued jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the international police agency Interpol, environmental crime, including the illegal wildlife trade, forestry crimes, illegal mining, and illegal waste disposal, is now estimated to be worth between $91 and $258 billion annually, with the illegal wildlife trade estimated to represent $7 to $23 billion of that total (corruption in the global forestry sector, by comparison, is worth $29 billion per year, Interpol estimated in another recent report). Environmental crimes are increasing five to seven percent every year, UNEP and Interpol found — a rate two or three times faster than the global economy is growing.
The global illegal wildlife trade continues to grow thanks to the high profits and minimal risk involved, says the EIA, which published a report ahead of the Hanoi Conference that looked at public policies as well as records of thousands of seizures, arrests, and prosecutions in 15 different countries that are key players in the illegal wildlife trade.
The impacts of the illegal wildlife trade are not just felt by the wide range of species targeted and the ecosystems that rely on them, the EIA report notes. It also drives conflict and undermines governance and economic stability while exploiting local communities. There have been some notable efforts since the signing of the London Declaration, the group says, but they have been inconsistent, pushing many trafficked species into an even more endangered status today than they were two years ago.
Records examined by EIA show that there hasn’t been any meaningful dip in the rate at which a number of key species are being illegally traded, such as the totoaba in the Gulf of California, which is being driven towards extinction by poachers whose nets also ensnare the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise, the vaquita, at such a rate that it’s feared they could be extinct within a year.
“Our assessment indicates that the basic legislation and institutional framework to combat wildlife crime does exist, although there remain critical gaps in the response of key governments,” EIA states in the report. “There is no time to waste — the international community is well aware of the actions needed to end the illegal wildlife trade and now is the time for action.”
By and large, that action did not materialize at the Hanoi Conference, though some countries have taken specific actions that the EIA says have the potential to make a significant contribution to curbing wildlife crime.
The UK, the US, and Germany committed to providing financial and technical support to initiatives aimed at developing the capacity to tackle wildlife crime, for instance, while Botswana committed to developing an internet tool that will allow for greater information exchange and international cooperation between wildlife law enforcement agencies in the Southern African Development Community by March 2017. Malawi, for its part, committed to fostering bilateral agreements with China, South Africa, and Zimbabwe by June 2017.
But many other pledges made as part of the Hanoi Statement are vague and lack time-bound commitments or quantifiable targets, meaning their potential impact cannot be measured, the EIA said.
“In some cases, promises already made but yet to be implemented were blatantly ignored,” the group noted in a statement. “Although China promised last year to close its domestic ivory market, it made no mention of a timeframe for implementing this now overdue promise. Similarly, the UK has repeatedly promised to ban all ivory sales but is yet to close its domestic ivory market, which has been found to cater largely to Asian consumers and exposed as an avenue for laundering illegal ivory.”
The Humane Society International (HSI) is also urging countries to follow through on the promises made in the Hanoi Statement by implementing measures to save wildlife from being decimated by poaching and the trade in their parts.
The Hanoi Statement, HSI noted, calls on governments to follow up on the commitments made in the 2014 London Declaration and the 2015 Kasane Statement by taking strong action against wildlife crime on both the demand and supply sides, increasing penalties against poachers and wildlife traffickers, strengthening and better coordinating international law enforcement against criminal groups involved in the illegal wildlife trade, and working with local communities to address wildlife crime and promote economic development initiatives like ecotourism that conserve wildlife.
“The statement demonstrates high-level government commitment to stamping out poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” Teresa Telecky, director of HSI’s wildlife department, in a statement. “We urge the governments to dedicate the resources and other tools needed to turn these commitments into action.”