T he UK is at the heart of an international drive to combat the illegal trade in wildlife. This is an issue that should concern us all: this trade threatens communities, it drives corruption, strengthens criminal groups and undermines the stability of often fragile states.
For these reasons the UK government will be hosting the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade on Thursday. The event will bring together global leaders to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect some of the world’s most cherished species from being hunted into extinction.
The trade is also a serious criminal industry, worth billions of dollars every year. There is a risk that insurgent groups could benefit from such trade. We know that fragile states can offer criminal and extremist groups ungoverned space in which to operate. The effects of all this matters to the UK, as it does to the UAE, and countries right around the world.
To solve it, we need to reduce and remove demand for products, ban shipments of such goods and help choke supply.
That is why the UK government is seeking political commitment from the highest level. Countries who have been invited, including the UAE, are those most affected by the illegal wildlife trade, whether as range, transit or consumer states.
The conference aims to tackle three interlinked aspects of the illegal wildlife trade: improving law enforcement and the role of the criminal justice system; reducing demand for wildlife products; and supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by the trade.
There will be a particular focus on the plight of elephants, rhinos and tigers. These three species are the primary targets of organised criminal activity and face unprecedented levels of poaching.
Action is vital for ecosystem protection, but perhaps more importantly, the fact that these three species are threatened shows us the seriousness of the issue. If we can’t save these species, what chance do others have?
We have already seen the extinction of the western black rhino in Africa this year, which is a complete tragedy. We must work together to ensure it is the last extinction among these great animals.
It’s an emotive issue but we must be absolutely clear that it is not insoluble. The solutions are there but only if we join forces and ensure a system that works. From improved law enforcement to working with local communities, there is plenty we can do, and the UK is keen to get started with its global partners.
As a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in endangered Species since 1990, the UAE is well aware this is a key issue. The country has been active in building national capacity to protect some of the world’s rarest species from trafficking.
For example bodies such as Dubai Customs have engaged in the training of customs officers to combat the illegal trade at entry points. And the first-ever Arabic language species identification manual was used in the UAE. It is also telling that the International Fund for Animal Welfare has its Middle East headquarters in Dubai.
On the UK side, we are working closely with a number of organisations and NGOs such as the Princes Trust Sustainability Unit, the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, and United for Wildlife.
The London conference will not duplicate the initiatives already underway by these organisations or the UN to tackle the trade but rather it will build on them, ensuring that they have the necessary high level endorsement.
It will look at the range of consequences: for the environment, for efforts to tackle crime and instability and for the communities directly affected by the trade.
The illegal wildlife trade is truly a global moral wrong, threatening the world’s most vulnerable societies and threatening our most iconic species with extinction.
Our values do not allow us to stand by and do nothing. I and many others will be watching closely for agreements in London this Thursday, but more importantly, for global commitment and robust collaboration going forward.
Dominic Jermey is the British ambassador to the United Arab Emirates