Angola yesterday kicked off global celebrations of World Environment Day with a pledge to combat the illegal trade in wildlife, which is part of wider global environmental crime, costing up to $258 billion per year.
World Environment Day (WED), the world’s biggest day for positive environmental action, is being officially hosted by the southern African nation, which is attempting to overcome issues related to the WED theme of ending the illegal trade in wildlife.
“We are all aware the world faces challenges in preserving natural heritage and biological diversity, which is seriously affected by the illegal trade in wildlife,” Angolan Vice President Manuel Domingos Vicente said at the opening of celebrations. “The joy of future generations relies on actions taken today. For this reason, the Republic of Angola has established an environmental crime unit to eliminate poaching and put an end to the killing of species that are crucial for ecosystems.”
Angola lost many of its elephants during a long civil war, which ran on-and-off from 1975 to 2002. It is unclear how many elephants remain, but those that do are facing pressure from poachers. The nation is also a transit country for ivory, with carved goods coming over the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo for re-sale, largely to Asian nations.
Angola is introducing tougher penalties for poaching, shutting down its domestic illegal markets, and looking to provide alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the illegal wildlife trade chain. They are also training former combatants to become wildlife rangers and have opened new tourism lodges in the southeastern Cuando-Cubango province.
As a further signal of its intent, Angola has joined twelve other nations as a signatory to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), which focuses on protecting African elephants through measures such as closing domestic markets.
“There is no doubt that human activities are responsible for species loss,” said Environment Minister Maria de Fátima Jardim. “We all have to take measures to preserve species of flora and fauna. Poaching and the illegal trade in ivory is a concern for our government; we have a plan for environmental management, which includes conservation areas and a national strategy for biodiversity.”
The troubles facing Angola are part of a wider global problem. A new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-INTERPOL report, The Rise of Environmental Crime, found that transnational criminal networks are profiting to the tune of up to $258 billion per year from environmental crimes, including the illegal trade in wildlife. This is a 26 per cent increase on previous estimates.
Environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at about $3 billion. It is the world’s fourth-largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The amount of money lost due to environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combatting it – just $20-30 million.
More than one quarter of the world’s elephant population has been killed in a decade. Some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife, like rhinos and elephants, are being killed at a rate that has grown by more than 25 per cent every year in the last decade.
Taking part in the Luanda event, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Today, on World Environment Day, thousands of people are coming together across the world to stand up and be counted to defend the environment. This year, we are focusing on the illegal trade in wildlife because it is a crime against nature, nations and communities, and a source of danger and financing that produces some of the greatest evils on this planet.
“We hope that, by being here in Luanda, we can speak to world about what Angola is doing to fight the illegal trade in wildlife, including protecting elephants, forests, watersheds and the enormous ecological wealth of this nation.”
To combat the illegal trade in wildlife, the United Nations system and partners have launched the Wild For Life campaign, which draws on support from celebrities such as Gisele Bündchen, Yaya Touré and Neymar Jr. to mobilize millions to take action against poaching and the trafficking of illegal wildlife products.
The campaign is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and World Bank are also on board as supporters.
Already, around 25,000 people and more than 25 ministers – including Ms. Jardim – have chosen a species to show their commitment to protecting wildlife.
Elsewhere, around the world, tens of thousands of people were actively celebrating WED at many hundreds of events from New York to Beijing, from Canberra to Kathmandu, to raise attention on the urgency of battling wildlife crime and other pressing environmental problems.
In Stockholm, school children made an animated video about the impacts of palm oil production on endangered species in Asia; in India, iconic monuments, including Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial and the India Gate in New Delhi, were lit up in green; and volunteers around the globe planted trees everywhere from Malawi to the Hindu Kush.