Why did you create MEPs for Wildlife? Four years later, what do you think are the main priorities now for the group?
In 2014, as the new Juncker Commission was settling into their roles and portfolios, it became clear that there was no clear focus on biodiversity loss and the damage being done to the natural world. Climate Change, yes, they had that covered and for them it ticked the environment box. However, combining maritime issues with environmental issues in one Commission portfolio was a clear indication of the lack of recognition and importance of the natural world and that pressure would need to come from other forces if biodiversity loss was to be treated seriously.
I saw it as a clear task that the parliament should pick up, and so I formed the cross party group MEPs4Wildlife. This was not a party issue but a realisation that the planet was facing a silent crisis, and we were determined to ‘assist’ the Commissioner and the people who worked in his teams (many of whom were very aware and committed to these issues) in any way we could to address this issue.
We did this via meetings, lobbying, press briefings, contact with other agencies and the Commissioner himself. The fact that the Wildlife Traffic Action Plan to tackle the illegal wildlife trade came forward so speedily was in some large measure because of the pressure we put on the Commission.
Now that I have left the Parliament, I am pleased to see that other MEPs have picked up the baton. MEPs4Wildlife should concentrate on the issues that the natural world is facing. Keep checking that the Green deal includes natural issues and fight the issues that is threatening the biosphere - trade, cultural exchange, food security, human development etc. They can do this by including the economic cost of destruction as the people who control budgets are the all-powerful.
Those of us who care about the natural world for its own value will never gain the support of others unless we show the economic value too. That’s why I started MEPs4wildlife to get this focus, and I am confident that the current MEPs will continue that work.
Do you think the Covid19 pandemic will have an impact on the environmental policies of the EU? If so, would you urge your former colleagues to stress more the linkages between pandemics and wildlife trafficking?
Any issue that takes the focus off the environmental crisis is worrying, and with the accompanying financial impact that the Coronavirus crisis will ultimately bring, it is a huge concern. Economics always trumps wildlife protection sadly. However, it is also an opportunity. We will come through this crisis changed, our economies and communities will be severely affected and it is important that the rebuilding of the European way of life has environmental protection built in. We must always make the case for the economic effect of destroying the biosphere, and this current crisis is a fine example
One of the first issues to tackle is the issue of bush meat - the consumption of wild caught meat. It is widely accepted that human consumption of wild caught meat was the source of this new strain of virus. It is technically now banned in China, and evidence seems to show unprecedented level of wildlife enforcement across the nation since the issuing of the Decision. However, it is not possible to enforce everywhere and all markets, so I hope the Chinese Government will be very strict in the months to come.
As legislators, MEPs are in a key position to ensure that these sources of infections are stopped. It is important not only for human health but also for the protection of the biodiversity of every part of the planet. Europe is a huge buyer of wildlife, including timber, plants, furs, pets, meat and ivory and several other goods gathered from the wild, sometimes imported legally, but generally not. Europe is also a driver for secondary destruction of wild areas and forests for farming and economic production. We therefore have a responsibility to monitor our imports and our footprint on the rest of the world as well as to set an example and to drive the research that allows for better environmental protections.
Do you think the Biodiversity Strategy* will be able to address the needs of the fight against wildlife crime within a new EU WTAP?
I am concerned that the New Commission’s plans are not as focused on biodiversity loss and the current Corona crisis will not help, and is more likely to stop awareness and commitment to the protection that should be enshrined in every bit of legislation. In the face of huge European wide restructuring plans as we recover from the Corona crisis, environmentalists must make the economic case for protecting the natural world, valuing the goods that it brings and the risks of ignoring its over consumption and eventual loss.
It is for this reason that I am happy that the new crop of MEPs who are members of the MEPs4Wildlife are committed to watching and monitoring and fighting for biodiversity over the next few years as we all recover from this pandemic. This will be vital for the protection of the natural environment of our planet.
* note from IFAW: this interview was conducted before the launch of the EU Biodiversity Strategy on 20 May 2020.