At the International Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade
Thirty-two countries and several international organizations have pledged new and tougher action on combating the wildlife trade during the Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Kasane, Botswana.
The signatories to the agreement committed to strengthen legislation and ensure harsher penalties for financial crimes related to the illegal wildlife trade. They also reaffirmed a zero-tolerance policy for corruption, which will be conducive to the due prosecution and sentencing of kingpins controlling the illegal wildlife trade.
The participants further promised to eradicate both the demand for and supply of illegal wildlife products, and to work towards achieving sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by wildlife crime, recognizing that the active engagement of local people is key to effective monitoring and law enforcement.
The Kasane Conference came on the back of last year's London Conference, which acknowledged that the illegal wildlife trade had reached unprecedented levels and constituted a crisis. A historic UN resolution focused on illegal wildlife trade followed in June 2015, adopted by 157 countries, gathered for the first-ever UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi.
More recently, the outcomes of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals also underscored the need to combat illicit wildlife trade. Earlier this month, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment provided support and guidance to the work of the African Union towards a pan-African Strategy to address the illegal trade in wildlife.
The international community has since undertaken significant steps to address the crisis. For example, nine internet enterprises in China, including two giants-Alibaba and Tencent-committed to not offering publicity or trading services to illegal wildlife products on their networks.
At the same time, the US funded INTERPOL Operation PAWS has led to the arrest of over 100 wildlife criminals and the seizure of 26 tigers skins and parts, 50 common and clouded leopards, 280 kg of pangolin scales, 83 bears and parts, 3500 kg of elephants ivory and over 4000 kg of red sandal wood.
Supporting these efforts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined in the World Wildlife Day celebrations earlier this month, with the central theme "It's Time to Get Serious about Wildlife Crime". It highlighted the fact that the illegal harvesting and trade in wildlife not only poses a direct threat to wildlife populations, but also helps to finance criminal groups and undermines the rule of law, peace and security, and sustainable development.
Such impacts require a coherent response from the international community, and the UN system is stepping up its collaborative action. The response to the wildlife crime crisis now depends on the ability of the countries to rapidly translate their commitments made at UNEA and the London Conference into changes in policy and legislation at national level. Enhanced enforcement at all scales, and support to communities for the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife is also urgently needed.
UNEP is offering assistance through technical, policy, and capacity support provided directly to countries. It also facilitates access to the Global Environment Facility and other resources, including the African Elephant Fund, and advances on demand side strategies.
UNEP also concentrates on enacting the UNEA Resolution on Illegal Wildlife Trade, which calls for reinforced actions and enhanced international coordination to counter the illegal trade in wildlife. The resolution strongly encourages governments to implement their commitments to fight the illegal trade through, among other things, targeted actions to eradicate supply, transit and demand for illegal wildlife products. It promotes zero-tolerance policies and the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities adversely affected by the illegal trade.
UNEP was requested to undertake a number of activities to further efforts in this area, including: providing an analysis of the environmental impacts of the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products to the next UNEA session, to raise public awareness about the issue and to work closely with the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL, CITES, UNDP and the Secretary General's Rule of Law Group. UNEP was also requested to support governments to develop and implement environmental rule of law mechanisms at the national level.
UNEP looks forward to continuing to collaborate with and support our Member States in the implementation of the commitments from London and Kasane.