UK urges global collaboration to tackle the illegal wildlife trade

Posted On: 
25th October 2018

Dods Monitoring's Mitchell Adams reviews the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London and global efforts to end poaching and the trade in illegal wildlife goods.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and The Duke of Cambridge with Jampel Lhendup of the Royal Mamas National Park Bhutan at the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference
Credit: 
PA

Brexit has dominated political discourse since the EU referendum. But the world outside negotiations continues to turn. The UK hosted the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference earlier this month. When the conference was announced last year, Environment Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey said it was an opportunity for countries “to work together, share learnings and forge new partnerships.” But now that the conference has come and gone, can we say that the UK did enough to live up to the idealistic language of the initial announcement?

With Brexit discussions reaching their climax it’s understandable that almost everything else has taken a back seat. But that doesn’t mean that nothing newsworthy came out of the IWT conference 2018. Environment Secretary Michael Gove stressed the need for “a single unified voice” to emerge from Conference and perhaps the most significant announcement came via the London 2018 declaration. Over 50 countries adopted a commitment to “action to protect endangered species around the globe”.

The full details of commitments have yet to be published, with more expected over the coming weeks “to ensure momentum continues”, but the signing shows an encouraging international desire to end the trade of illegal wildlife goods worldwide.

Michael Gove also announced the formation of the Ivory Alliance 2024, a coalition of “political leaders, conservationists and celebrities dedicated to defeating the illegal trade in ivory”. The keyword coming out of the conference therefore appears to be “collaboration”. Though the UK will no doubt continue to stress the idea that it remains a global leader in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, the message coming from conference is very much that the issue needs to be tackled on a global front through various methods of co-operation.

In this vein, another key announcement was the formation and funding of a new British military counter-poaching taskforce. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson delivered the ominous message that “those responsible for [illegal poaching] should be looking over their shoulders”.

He laid out how “operatives will be deployed to train African park rangers in more effective and safer counter-poaching techniques.” £900,000 of funding is being put up by the Government, with a further £50,000 of funding to support in-country projects.

So with the major announcements in mind, and a small flurry of minor announcements, can we look back on the conference and say it has lived up to expectations? Perhaps not.

Whilst it has been encouraging to see the Government make a strong commitment to protecting CITES species from most of the countries represented at the conference, there was little funding committed to assist in delivering these pledges.

The Government’s pledge for a new anti-poaching taskforce, while welcome, is only an expansion upon projects already in place. The conference saw little in the way of new key announcements, and despite hopes that it would gain coverage and traction in the media, it seems that the in the current political climate it was overlooked.

With this lower profile domestically, the Government must be sure not to ignore the importance of tackling the illegal wildlife trade. IWT 2018 enabled a focus on these key issues; it’s failure to lastingly do that could be seen as a real missed opportunity.