Beastly Business team gives evidence to targeted expert survey – EU policy review

Following the public consultation process on the evaluation of EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking (WAP), the Beastly Business team was invited to give additional evidence within the framework of a targeted expert survey.

We were delighted to speak with Bio Innovation Service who are reviewing the expert contributions on behalf of the European Commission to inform the design and outlook of future action plans. The survey targets a number of different themes; Dr Teresa Lappe-Osthege has collated our key takeaways from each of these themes here.

1. Awareness raising

Although awareness-raising and demand reduction are cornerstones of the Action Plan, and important tools in effectively curbing the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), the actions identified in the policy place disproportionate focus on source communities and consumer markets outside of the EU. This creates two specific problems that undermine its effectiveness. First, the objectives of the Action Plan targeting the illicit trade and demand within the EU itself are not sufficiently translated into and mainstreamed across the policy’s action points. This means that, in practice, the majority of awareness-raising and targeted demand reduction campaigns focused on the illegal trade and consumption in exotic species in third (i.e. non-EU) countries. Second, because of the focus on organized criminal networks in IWT, the Action Plan disproportionately focused on those business sectors that engage with markets outside of the EU. As the involvement of green-collar offenders in the EU is thought to be less organized, more ad hoc, and can target non-endangered European species, these stakeholders and their activities were largely overlooked.

2. Supporting community engagement in tackling IWT

While the Action Plan identified the crucial role of rural communities in the successful management and conservation of wildlife, it placed disproportionate focus on source communities in third countries. This resulted in suggested actions that focused largely on the policies and funding priorities of Member State authorities towards developing countries. Thereby, those communities within the Member States that function as both source and consumer markets were largely overlooked. In addition, we still do not know enough about how IWT affects the population size and behaviour of European species, but the Action Plan does not consider rural communities as carriers and co-collaborators of local knowledge. Engaging more regularly and comprehensively with rural communities, drawing on their expertise and experiences, can provide crucial insights in this regard.

3. Capacity building and training for Member States authorities and institutions

Our research indicates that although the Action Plan provided for trans-sectoral capacity-building across the Member States, significant shortcomings remain with regards to investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings against IWT and associated wildlife crimes. Often, because national enforcement chains are understaffed and underfunded, civil society stakeholders engage in enforcement activities (such as investigations and evidence gathering). However, this can put their personal safety and the interests of their organisations at risk. In practice, the capacity-building mechanisms identified in the Action Plan were insufficient to counteract the fact that its implementation relied solely on the efforts of the Member States and third-party actors such as international NGOs who had to secure funding through programmes such as LIFE or external sources. This resulted in reduced commitment from Member States to tackle wildlife crime as a priority issue.

4. Strengthening compliance with legislation and improving enforcement

Although the Action Plan set out initial steps to improve compliance with key EU legislation and step up enforcement-related activities within the Member States, there are two overarching problems. Firstly, the Action Plan does not recognise that the complexity of existing EU conservation policies causes significant challenges in ensuring monitoring and evaluation. Member States’ national and regional exemptions and derogations of existing EU legislation create a complex legal context in which illegal activity can easily be concealed. Exemptions from the EU legislation could create porous lines between legal and illegal activities, thus enabling wildlife trafficking, for example, by facilitating the laundering of illegally caught specimens into the legal trade. Because these legal loopholes exist, wildlife crime remains a low risk-high profit activity. Secondly, the Action Plan focused disproportionately on criminal networks, but it failed to adequately capture the range of actors involved in wildlife crime. Those actions identified in the policy to counteract this, were a step in the right direction, but will have to be widened and deepened in the revision process.

5. Strengthening cooperation

The Action Plan attempted to increase international and EU-wide cooperation on matters related to IWT. While it has stimulated the creation of practitioner networks, it has not resulted in a tangible increase in practical cooperation. For example, our work indicates that both cooperation among Member States, and cooperation with non-EU enforcement networks and other global networks is still largely disjointed. Moreover, although international fora and global initiatives are a crucial platform to expand cooperation on IWT matters, often these initiatives result in non-binding agreements or resolutions that have little impact at the local and national levels.

6. Strengthening legislation

For it to effectively tackle cross-border IWT, within and beyond the EU, the EU’s legislative framework needs to complement international instruments on IWT and push for strong, legally binding measures. We welcome the ongoing review and revision of the environmental crime directive, and believe that CITES remains a crucial multilateral platform to coordinate international responses to IWT, despite its focus on endangered and exotic species. However, despite attempts to frame IWT as a serious organised crime, Member States generally do not appear to consider wildlife crime as a policy priority. This may explain why some Member States have reduced the punishment and/or fine for offences committed in relation to IWT or wildlife crime, contrary to those aims set out in the Action Plan.

7. Improving knowledge and monitoring of IWT

Effective monitoring of IWT in the EU requires national authorities to exchange data frequently and in a timely manner to fully understand cross-border activities. Unfortunately, although the Action Plan set out to step up efforts across the EU to increase monitoring on IWT and to improve our knowledge of associated activities, many issues remain unknown. For example, we still do not know the extent of the illegal trade in native European species within the EU, the role of organised or disorganised corporate actors (such as green-collar offenders), and the extent to which wildlife crime may be linked to other forms of crime. Our research indicates that civil society stakeholders and enforcement officials struggle to monitor, investigate and effectively prosecute offences related to IWT due to lacking capacities and resources, and because of complex legislative frameworks.

8. Raising the profile of IWT

Raising the profile of IWT should not be confined to EU institutions or programmes. It is also crucial to understand and raise awareness of how it links with other sectors (such as business and trade) to tackle IWT comprehensively. Although the Action Plan aimed to mainstream considerations for IWT across wider environmental policy areas and programmes, such concerns remain largely superficial. EU funding streams, such as the LIFE programme, have played a crucial role in consolidating efforts to understand and tackle wildlife crime (especially bird crime). Yet, such funding support is limited, and has not resulted in securing greater commitment from Member States to tackle wildlife crime as a priority issue. The Commission should dedicate financial and human resources at the EU level to comprehensively integrate the Action Plan into the larger policy framework constituted by the EU Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

Our team has worked to understand the links between biodiversity and security within and beyond Europe, and thereby, to improve our knowledge base of what drives and sustains IWT.

We found that the emphasis on IWT as serious organised crime results in predominately enforcement-led responses that overlook specific actors (e.g. green-collar offenders; European consumers, etc.), motivations (e.g. experiences of luxury; display of social status, etc.), markets (e.g. EU), and affected species (native European species). To learn more about our research, please see here.

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