How the UK is tackling illegal wildlife trade

The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a global crisis involving organised criminal networks and is estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year. It is a foreign policy issue because not only does it threaten species with extinction, but it damages economic growth and sustainable development, is fuelled by corruption, and undermines good governance and the rule of law. Urgent, united action by the international community is vital.

The UK is committed to global leadership in tackling IWT. We hosted the ground-breaking London Conference in 2014 that secured ambitious agreements from more than forty governments to take urgent, coordinated action. It was hailed as a turning point in global efforts to tackle these damaging activities.  We played a leading role in conferences in Botswana (2015) and Vietnam (2016). And hosted a second and still bigger and more inclusive Conference on 11 and 12 October this year. The 2018 Conference was a great example of Global Britain in action: of the UK using its convening power to provide a platform for, and a new impetus to, international efforts on a crucial and urgent set of challenges.

This year’s event was the largest yet, attracting participants from civil society, academia and conservation professionals to Evolution in Battersea, and strong private sector support. Over 50 countries reaffirmed their commitment to countering IWT, and set out further steps. The UK’s high-level participation and new commitments were key to this, while our creative media campaigns ensured a high media profile. The conference covered demand, supply and transit issues, focusing on tackling IWT as a Serious and Organised Crime, building broader coalitions and closing markets.

Over 1,300 took part, from over 70 countries.  Three Presidents (Uganda, Gabon, and Botswana), two First Ladies (Kenya, Sierra Leone), two Deputy Prime Ministers (Cambodia, DRC), US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and public figures including Ellie Goulding, Helen Clark and William Hague were among the speakers. Panel members ranged from scientists and social media commentators to park rangers and activists.

UK engagement was powerful. The Foreign, International Development and Environment Secretaries and HRH The Duke of Cambridge spoke at the conference and/or the preceding reception at St James’ Palace, while the Prime Minister and The Prince of Wales sent video messages. The Environment Secretary, Ministers Thérèse Coffey, Harriett Baldwin, Mark Field and Conference Champion Zac Goldsmith MP were active on panels and in the margins. Ministers and HRH The Duke of Cambridge held over 25 bilaterals with foreign leaders.

Specific HMG announcements around the Conference included:

  • A new Ivory Alliance 2024, chaired by the Environment Secretary, which will focus on tackling demand and lobbying for further domestic market closures, particularly in Asia. Five senior political influencers from around the world, including a senior congresswoman from the Philippines and the former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, and as many cultural influencers, like the Laotian popstar Alexandra Bounxouei, have already joined the efforts. China co-chaired the ivory session at the Conference and shared initial results of their domestic ban.
  • £6mn of new funding to the IWT Challenge Fund. Inter alia, the latest round will be used to encourage projects supporting transboundary initiatives. It will also allow bids to protect certain endangered plant species;
  • £3.5mn for technical assistance to Financial Intelligence Units in developing countries, implemented by the UNODC and the Centre of Excellence for Financial Investigation, to tackle money-laundering and corruption associated with the illegal wildlife trade;
  • £20mn for the UK Aid Match fund which doubles public donations made to charities. IWT and conservation work bids will be among the policy areas welcomed;
  • £33.5mn to protect critical forest habitat for wildlife including through public-private partnerships to develop environmentally friendly business practices;
  • £900,000 to develop a British military counter-poaching taskforce to train African rangers in more effective and safer counter-poaching techniques. Complementary support for community initiatives around Malawi parks.


Yet crucially the Conference was a collective undertaking. Over fifty countries signed up to the Conference Declaration, and made a raft of important commitments. Singling out specifics is unfair to those not mentioned.  But Cambodia and Laos announced they will follow China in instituting domestic ivory bans; Peru that it will hold a high-level regional conference in 2019 and the US that it will focus on enforcement and closing markets: making its domestic priority was “no market, no safe haven”.

A further highlight of the Conference was private sector engagement. Attendees heard from transport, tourism, e-commerce and financial services coalitions that are cutting IWT out of supply chains, taking down adverts from online marketplaces, clamping down on illicit financial flows, and sharing intelligence between ports, shipping and airlines. In addition to a Finance Taskforce launched by HRH The Duke of Cambridge which enables big banks to track illicit financial flows, the World Travel & Tourism Council announced a major behavioural campaign to ‘make every journey count’. This will reach over a billion travellers.  And the e-commerce coalition launched an action plan with Interpol/UNODC to help reduce IWT online by 80% by 2020.

The 2018 Conference succeeded in its specific aims. And yet the challenges remain. And they remain huge. So the focus and determination the Conference established will be its most important legacy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
BFPG Admin