When I joined IFAW in the summer of 2016, one of the first meetings I had with my colleagues was to discuss the European Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan (EU WTAP) implementation, which was still a newborn back then. The EU WTAP aims to address the root causes and identify measures to combat wildlife trafficking more effectively while supporting global efforts. These include funding and diplomacy, and amending national legislation for wildlife crime to be recognized as a serious crime.
Many meetings, two European Parliament Resolutions, several workshops, one mid-term report, and also two CITES Conference of Parties later, here we are entering almost the second semester in 2020 and the alleged end of this EU WTAP. Despite firm commitments from its signatories four years ago and awareness that wildlife trade poses high risks to biodiversity, fuels criminal groups and is an incubator for zoonotic diseases, we would have never thought of living such an unreal historical moment as today.
I have this sense of Mother Nature taking revenge so that things would not continue business as usual for too long. Therefore, despite being deeply shocked by the daily covid-19 bulletins from countries around the world, I still hope that this pandemic will represent a wakeup call like never before. It is very ironic that 2020 “the super year for biodiversity” is the year we will all remember as the one when the world as we knew totally changed, I hope, for a better one.
The change has to start from our European Member States, sometimes feeling – wrongly – too far from where the real problem is. This is not a Chinese problem only, we all need to change the way we misuse natural resources. The European Green Deal is not a commitment on paper, but an obligation to act. Animal markets exist in many places across the world, not just in China. So even though this particular outbreak originated in Wuhan, it could have happened anywhere wild animals are in close contact with people. Fresh bushmeat, for example, is also illegally imported into Europe.
In February, the European Commission launched a Roadmap to assess the EU WTAP, and IFAW responded to it. There is no doubt that it has proved a valuable tool, supporting many positive developments across Europe and beyond. However, it has not delivered enough in some critical areas of expectations. It is impossible to properly measure the progress of the current EU WTAP as there are no set indicators or baselines. Member States, have, for the most part, not produced publicly announced plans or allocated sufficient resources to address wildlife trafficking. Finally, the EU WTAP itself suffers from a lack of proper and innovative involvement from both the private sector and civil society. These are, in a nutshell, the main loopholes encountered in the current plan.
So now, what's next? It is just recent news that the Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius said that the EU would step up to control wildlife trade. This is indeed great news. I hope that this means that the upcoming EU Biodiversity strategy will give a more robust weight to this issue and that we will see a new EU WTAP 2.0, dramatically improved in its components and with precise monitoring tools, funds available and secure commitments from the 27 Member States.
Key elements of the new plan should also include responsibilities for more durable legal frameworks, to protect wildlife and enhanced enforcement to reduce the illegal trade in wildlife, along with demand reduction campaigns to decrease, more broadly, commercial exploitation of wild animals, and, finally, improve the conditions of wild animals in legal trade.
The Covid-19 pandemic is showing us once again how little we are but also how dangerous our species can be: we need to thrive together with nature, not mistreat it.
Senior Campaigner, EU office
Wildlife Crime Prevention - EuropeThe European Union is widely considered to be the third largest destination for illegal wildlife
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