UNEA-2: Building momentum to end illegal wildlife trade

The author (far right) with members of the US and Kenyan delegations.Illegal wildlife trade took centre stage in the UN Environment Assembly’s second-ever meeting at United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi last week. Known as the parliament for the environment, the UNEA was established as the governing council of the UNEP and positioned as the leading global environmental authority.

Masha Vorontsova, Satyen Sinha and I represented IFAW at this global gathering of Environment Ministers, government delegations and nongovernmental stakeholders to address the themes of “Delivering on the Environmental Dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and “Healthy Environment, Healthy People.” 

While efforts to quantify the value of wildlife and nature for human wellbeing have increased attention to environmental issues, we are convinced that effective conservation and sustainable development policies recognise not only economic value but ecological and biological sustainability, the precautionary principle and the ethical treatment of animals.

With the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) coming up in September, UNEA-2 provided timely access to policy makers, convention Secretariats, youth and other stakeholders on IFAW priority issues. 

Focused on a strong wildlife trade resolution - but also contributing where we could on other issues - our team engaged with Kenyan, EU and other delegations, negotiating language for a package of resolutions on a wide range of environmental issues. Twenty-five resolutions were ultimately passed.

Highlights of the week included Monday, when we joined Cabinet Secretary Prof. Judi Wakhungu at the Government of Kenya-hosted welcome reception highlighting the importance of wildlife. Going forward, I was pleased to share my expertise with the Kenyan delegation on elephant and wildlife trafficking issues.

On Thursday a high-level dialogue on the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products and the launch of the UN Wild for Life campaign (#wildforlife) featured CITES Secretary John Scanlon, Ministers from Kenya, South Africa, EU, Vietnam and others. 

The campaign by the UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and CITES aims to mobilise millions of people including youth to take action to end the illegal trade in wildlife. We are excited to build on this youth engagement through our upcoming Youth Forum for People and Wildlife in September.

Yet despite the strong support for the campaign against illegal wildlife trade, negotiations remained intense, reaching an agreement on a Resolution at 1am early on Friday morning. The Resolution promotes stronger national, regional and international cooperation to combat poaching, trafficking and demand, sending a strong signal to criminals that the world is united to stop this virulent activity.  

After a long hard week of negotiations, IFAW’s team is proud of the role it played, but not complacent. Now it is imperative that these Resolutions are fully implemented so that a viable future is secured for wildlife and the communities with whom they share the planet.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime