Angela Merkel’s lasting legacy? Close the EU ivory market

Oct 28, 2020 | Commentary

By Rosie Awori –  Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network


World leaders came together on 30th September to express their commitment to maintaining and protecting global biodiversity. At the UN Summit on Biodiversity, 64 political leaders, most speaking virtually, pledged to protect our global biodiversity heritage, committing to work towards ending environmental crimes, which were finally acknowledged as the causes of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Union, pledged that the EU was ready to lead when it comes to meeting the biodiversity targets spelled out in the EU’s Green Deal, she tweeted, “ … we need to act now and bring nature back into our lives. This is the moment for world leaders to work on new ambitious global diversity targets. The EU is ready to lead the way with the EU Green Deal.”

But here’s the problem: many of us dedicated to nature conservation find it perplexing that the EU chooses to enact specific legislation on climate change –  critical to maintaining the earth’s delicate balance – yet continues to refuse to adopt binding legislation on a key aspect of biodiversity protection: ending the shameful EU ivory trade. 

In June, the EU laid out legally-binding targets to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the steps needed in the intervening years to achieve this.  This legislation provides a convincing indicator that the EU should also lay out specific targets when it comes to protecting biodiversity; however there appears to be nothing but vague suggestions and recommendations. Just how long will things remain like this?

EU double standards

The Biodiversity Strategy states that in the post-COVID context, the EU aims to build our societies’ resilience to future threats such as climate change impacts, forest fires, food insecurity, or disease outbreaks, including by protecting wildlife and fighting illegal wildlife trade. The question remains: can suggestions and recommendations alone end the illegal wildlife trade? The need for binding laws is urgent and should be seen as such.

Despite the aforementioned “recommendations,” the EU continues to maintain a thriving ivory market. Obviously, ending wildlife trade is not high on its list of priorities. It is widely accepted that a strong biodiversity framework provides a cohesive framework for ecosystems to thrive. With ivory markets still open and prospering, this double standard puts the safety of elephants in grave danger in Africa and elsewhere and endangers biodiversity because of the key role they play in it.

German EU Presidency: the ball is in your court

The EU member states and the rest of the world look to Germany, President of the EU Council until this December, to influence biodiversity policy during its term in office. We know that the Presidency would like to see ambitious steps taken to tackle the EU ivory trade during its tenure. Any new initiative, however, needs to go all the way and close the EU market, following the lead of China, the US, Hong Kong SAR, the UK, New Zealand and others. Existing rules have not worked and permit loopholes particularly around antique ivory. Ample evidence exists that new ivory frequently masquerades as old ivory in Europe, thereby permitting the trade to continue unhindered.

Certification has not worked.  The Netherlands has stopped issuing export certificates and France is taking an equally tough line. To show similar levels of ambition, the German EU presidency must adopt a legislative proposal on ivory as far reaching as that of the climate law.

The need for a binding framework

On the road to legislating policies with global impact, the EU must walk in line with and listen to its international partners, many of whom live with the consequences of these initiatives. In particular, we, as Africans, expect to see a concrete legislative framework adopted in the areas that affect us so profoundly and that recognizes, specifically, the criminality of the illegal ivory trade. 

As a sign of good faith and solidarity, the EU should seek to collect all “antique” pieces and destroy them, as some African countries have already done. This will send a strong message that the EU has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on ivory trade, and it will discourage consumers and middlemen who try to smuggle ivory into the EU.

We will continue to watch and see just what measures the German EU Presidency will propose to realise its lofty biodiversity ambitions. We do not need empty words to silence conservationists.  We need robust laws that will genuinely protect global biodiversity.

Rosie Awori is a freelance journalist and senior writer  and corporate communications strategist at the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network.

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