Commission boosts fight against wildlife trafficking ahead of crucial international meeting

The newly revised EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking (EU-WAP) published recently by the European Commission is a critical step forward in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. Building on five years of activities implemented under the previous plan, it incorporates objectives and actions adapted to newly arising issues which will enable the EU and Member States to combat wildlife crime more effectively in the region and globally. 

The EU is one of the biggest importers of wildlife species and wildlife-derived commodities in the world, some of which are illegally imported and traded within the Union. Some European species are also legally and illegally traded within and/or out of Europe, or are victims of other forms of wildlife crime. 

The EU Action Plan comes ahead of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP19), the main international body governing wildlife trade, which will start in Panama on 14 November. 

In 2020, the SWiPE (Successful Wildlife Crime Prosecution in Europe) project was launched to discourage and ultimately reduce wildlife crimes by improving compliance with EU environmental law, and to contribute to more successful prosecution of wildlife crimes. In 2022, the SWIPE national reports were published providing a comprehensive overview of the countries legal systems, the laws setting out the offences defined as wildlife crime and the juridical proceedings and authorities involved. In most countries, the majority of wildlife crime data collected for the time period 2015-2020 is related to illegal hunting and poaching, and wildlife trafficking.  Data show that on average, 60% of wildlife crime complaints received by the prosecution did not result in indictments that led to court proceedings in 2015–2020.

“We welcome the new Action Plan  as an opportunity for the EU to materialize its commitments towards fighting wildlife crime and to tackle many of the findings from the SWIPE national reports. This should include measures to involve and improve cooperation between all relevant organizations, making effective use of existing tools and policies, and strengthening synergies between them, so that wildlife trafficking can be better addressed across the EU and globally”, said Nada Tosheva, the SWIPE project coordinator.

“We are also calling for the Council and the European Parliament to strongly endorse it. Moreover, the momentum of the revision of the EU Environmental Crime Directive should be used to show the seriousness in the fight against wildlife crime. Thus, the positions that the European Parliament and Member States will take on this file, especially on sanction levels, are highly important as well.”

The previous EU-WAP, which ended in 2020, was instrumental in raising the profile of wildlife trafficking and contained a comprehensive set of measures. Nonetheless, with time a number of gaps were identified that hindered the full achievement of its objectives, making an exhaustive update necessary. 

WWF welcomes a number of new measures included in the EU-WAP, such as: 

  • Actions aimed at improving implementation at the national and regional levels. This will ensure that wildlife trafficking remains a priority for Member States and that the European dimension of wildlife crime is addressed. 
  • Actions on financial investigations and asset recovery. These tools have been recognized as indispensable to effectively combat wildlife trafficking, especially when dealing with organized crime, as a way to dismantle their activities and affect them where it is most disruptive. 
  • The recognition of human rights and gender approaches as effective ways to better understand wildlife trafficking, to better engage with communities, and to offer innovative conservation solutions.
  • The retention of a comprehensive source to consumer approach that aims at tackling wildlife trafficking along the whole chain (demand reduction, law enforcement, judicial authorities, private sector, One Health, etc.), including by better involving non-governmental organizations, and by pursuing the support and cooperation with third countries. 
  • Breaching silos by referring to relevant EU legislation (Digital Services Act, Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence, Environmental Crime Directive, Directive on combating money laundering by criminal law, Directive on asset recovery and confiscation, etc.), and encouraging cooperation with relevant EU agencies and programs (OLAF, Europol, Eurojust, EMPACT, ENPE, etc.).

Nevertheless, the Plan has a number of shortcomings. While WWF takes note of the European Commission’s commitment to develop a monitoring system within a year, having such a reporting, monitoring and evaluation framework already incorporated into the Plan would have further boosted its efficiency. Although the revised Plan identifies sufficient allocation of resources at EU and Member State level as crucial, it fails to include any specific action to ensure this is achieved, risking falling into the same traps as for the 2016-2020 Action Plan.