So the holiday’s over, New Year resolutions have been made and in some cases already broken, and it’s time to get back to work. Already 2014 promises to be a hectic year for EIA, with a host of challenges and opportunities. It is also a special year for us, as 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of EIA.
It’s not our habit to look backwards, but it is worth a brief reflection on the past three decades. Since 1984, awareness of the perils of unbridled exploitation of the environment has greatly increased. In response, a raft of laws and international agreements have emerged, such as the landmark Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, the moratorium on commercial whaling and the international ban on the ivory trade, all of which emerged in the second half of the 1980s.
Yet despite this, the prognosis for our environment remains dire. Concerted action to combat climate change remains elusive, the illegal wildlife trade is booming and exploitation of natural resources such as forests is far in excess of capacity to regenerate.
One of the main underlying causes for this disconnect is the failure to adequately implement and enforce laws designed to protect the environment. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “Law without enforcement is only good advice”. A priority for EIA in the year ahead is to close the gap between paper laws and the reality on the ground.
This is especially urgent in the case of illegal wildlife trade. The past few years have seen a dangerous surge in the poaching of wildlife, driven by rising demand and the involvement of criminal syndicates. This is symbolised by the plight of the African elephant. About 100 are being killed every day, and populations are crashing. A recent count in Tanzania recorded just 13,500 elephants in the remote Selous area, compared with 70,000 in 2005.
Last year saw concern over illegal wildlife trade rise up the international political agenda, with the US President issuing an executive order on the issue in July. The challenge in 2014 will be to turn concerns into actions. The London Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife, which will take place on February 13, provides an opportunity and EIA will be pressing for a strong agreement from the meeting to use the rule of law to disrupt wildlife smuggling syndicates.
EIA’s Elephant Campaign team is currently compiling and analysing a wide array of data to determine the identity of some of the major syndicates involved in ivory smuggling between Africa and Asia, and will use the findings to support more effective enforcement. Although the picture for elephants looks bleak, we have been here before. In the late 1980s poaching was out of control, yet the situation was turned around by a clear an unequivocal trade ban, political leadership in key countries and strong enforcement. EIA will be working hard to ensure that the tide turns again in 2014.
Last year, EIA’s Tiger Campaign released a detailed report on the trade in captive-bred tiger parts in China and links to the black market trade in wild tigers. The message is that by creating a legal market in endangered species, demand for these products is stimulated, leading to increased poaching. In 2014, the EIA tiger team will continue to use information from its investigations to press China to stop allowing trade in captive-bred tiger parts, including at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee meeting in July.
Another important event in 2014 will be the biennial meeting of the International Whaling Commission, taking place in Slovenia in September. At the meeting, EIA’s Cetaceans Campaign team will once again ensure that the issue of Japan and Iceland’s continued whaling is exposed and will push a pro-conservation agenda to address environmental threats to whales.
Enforcement of laws will be a key focus of EIA’s Forest Campaign in the year ahead. EIA has spearheaded the creation of new regulations in the European Union and United States to prohibit imports of illegally logged timber. The priority now is to ensure these laws are adequately enforced and serve as an effective deterrent to trade in illicit timber.
During the coming months, a voluntary partnership agreement on timber trade between the EU and Indonesia should enter into force. EIA will work closely with its Indonesian NGO partners to monitor the effectiveness of the country’s timber legality system and will highlight infractions. In Myanmar, an important step in improving forest governance in the country will take place on April 1 when export of raw logs is banned. EIA will be on the lookout for any continuing log shipments after the ban, especially into neighbouring countries. Another priority for the forest team will be to scrutinise the effectiveness of the CITES listing for Siam rosewood, achieved in 2013.
Just before the holiday break, EIA’s Global Environment Campaign recorded an important success with the news that the EU had agreed a partial ban on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases. In the year ahead EIA’s GEC team will seek to leverage this important breakthrough into a global agreement to begin phasing out HFCs at the annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol, which is due to take place in November in Nairobi.
This is just a taste of the work ahead for EIA as we enter this landmark year for the organisation. Of course, we have to keep our plans for investigations under wraps, but as usual you will be able to follow the results of our work on EIA’s website and social media pages.
The workload is heavy and we are few; as always, we rely on your support and goodwill. All the very best for 2014.