Last week the European Commission adopted an EU Action Plan to tackle wildlife trafficking within the EU and to strengthen the EU’s role in the global fight against these illegal activities. The Action Plan is an ambitious blueprint that mobilises all EU diplomatic, trade and development cooperation tools to crack down on what has become one of the most profitable criminal activities worldwide.
Recent years have seen a dramatic surge in wildlife trafficking. An estimated 8 to 20 billion euro pass annually through the hands of organised criminal groups, ranking alongside the trafficking of drugs, people and arms. It not only threatens the survival of some emblematic species, it also breeds corruption, claims human victims, and deprives poorer communities of much-needed income. It also threatens security in Central Africa, where militia and terrorist groups partly fund their activities through wildlife trafficking.
The Action Plan was prepared jointly by a core team co-chaired by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, with the close involvement of Commissioners for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica and for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Federica Mogherini, Vice president of the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said: “Wildlife trafficking and poaching are drivers of insecurity and instability in several countries and regions. They can provide resources to armed groups and encourage corruption. We have to build strong partnerships with the countries along the trafficking chain – origin, destination and transit. The EU is ready to work with its partners in order to stop this form of trafficking and to support affected communities.”
Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: “Wildlife trafficking is a major threat to our sustainable future, and we need to fight it on several fronts. At this rate, a child born today will see the last wild elephants and rhinos die before their 25th birthdays. The new Action Plan underlines our commitment to ending this criminal activity, bringing together political will and action on the ground.”
The EU is a destination, source and transit region for trafficking in endangered species, which involves live and dead specimens of wild fauna and flora, or parts of products made from them. More than 20 000 elephants and 1200 rhinoceroses were killed in 2014 and, after years of recovery, their populations are once more in decline. As the biggest donor internationally, the EU is supporting conservation efforts in Africa with 700 million EUR for the period 2014-2020.
The Action Plan comprises 32 measures to be carried out between now and 2020 by the EU and its 28 Member States. It focuses on three priorities:
- Prevent trafficking and reduce supply and demand of illegal wildlife products: for example by the end of 2016 the Commission will prepare guidelines aiming to suspend the export of old ivory items from the EU
- Enhance implementation of existing rules and combat organised crime more effectively by increasing cooperation between competent enforcement agencies such as Europol
- Strengthen cooperation between source, destination and transit countries, including strategic EU financial support to tackle trafficking in source countries, help build capacity for enforcement and provide long term sources of income to rural communities living in wildlife-rich areas
In the European Agenda on Security presented in May 2015, the Commission proposed to scale up the fight against environmental crimes and the illegal trade in wildlife. The Action Plan forms part of the wider EU Action Plan to strengthen the fight against terrorist financing presented by the Commission in February 2016. It is also an important contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ dedicated target (Goal 15) to “take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna, and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products”. It will be presented to the EU Member States for endorsement in the coming weeks.
The EU has been at the forefront of the fight against wildlife crime, advocating for strict rules under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), promoting its implementation in all countries, and supporting large scale conservation efforts. Wildlife trade from, into and within the EU is regulated through a set of Wildlife Trade Regulations that implement the provisions of the CITES Convention. The EU Nature Directives prohibit the sale and transport of a number of strictly protected wild species in the EU. Wildlife trafficking is also included in the Directive on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law which requires Member States to consider it a criminal offence. In 2014 a consultation on the EU approach against wildlife trafficking showed strong support for the development of an EU Action Plan. The European Parliament adopted a comprehensive resolution in January 2014 calling for an EU Action Plan against wildlife crime and trafficking.