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SDG #16 Through the Lens of Wildlife Crime

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

The care, protection and conservation of other animals is essential for the survival of the planet and its people. Without this acknowledgement and integration into the implementation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we cannot

succeed in ending poverty, fighting inequality and addressing the urgency of climate change. The diverse and significant implications of wildlife trafficking ... mean that the protection of wildlife, forests, and fish 'must be part of [an international and] comprehensive approach to achieving poverty eradication, food security, sustainable development, including the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, economic growth, social well-being and sustainable livelihoods.’ (UN General Assembly, 2015). SDG

#16 (the ’Peace’ SDG) in particular, is a missed opportunity to highlight this.

SDG #16 provides a road map for “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

It outlines 12 targets to be met by 2030.

These include:

16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere

16.2 End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children

16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all

16.4 By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime

16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms

16.a Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.

Wildlife crime is not mentioned in SDG #16, despite being estimated by the World Bank in an October 2019 report to be a massive global criminal industry worth up to 23 billion USD per year—behind only drug, human and arms trafficking in value to international crime syndicates and violent militia groups. According to the United Nations, no country is untouched by wildlife crime. And yet, despite the fact that wildlife crime impacts each of the SDG #16 targets above, it is not identified in the indicators that provide the measures against which countries can evaluate their success in meeting each target, begging the question of how we are going to achieve SDG #16 without addressing

wildlife crime?

“If we make reporting crime more lucrative than participating in it, there will be a sea change in how the wildlife crime industry functions.“

Every year, more species are targeted and added to the list of those that are already illegally traded. Between 1999 and 2018 there were nearly 180,000 seizures from 149 countries representing almost 6,000 species (UNODC, 2020). Wildlife crime dis-proportionately hurts the world’s poorest who live in the most biodiverse areas of the planet.

Wildlife crime is a major cause of violence, corruption, fraud, and terror by state and non-state actors, and an acute threat to the rule of law and governance, a major loss of tax revenue, the proliferation of weapons, and constitutes an on- going threat to rural communities--primarily in the Global South. The poaching and trafficking of animals, including the illegal and unregulated harvesting of fish is a crime that destabilizes forests, rural and coastal communities, threatens livelihoods, tramples on human rights, creates food insecurity and increases the vulnerability of these populations to disease, poverty and starvation.

Furthermore, recent research demonstrates that while the world's 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25 percent of the world's land surface and support about 80 percent of the global biodiversity. (Nature Sustainability, July 2018). They are also among the first to be penalized for protecting their land from environmental crimes—defined here as wildlife crime, forest crime and illegal fishing. Four defenders have been killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, according to Global Witness, with many more silenced by the threat of attack, intimidation and sexual violence. Moreover, more than one thousand park rangers have lost their lives while on duty during the last decade. Hundreds more die each year in developing countries that are never reported. Two-thirds of these men and women died at the hands of wildlife poachers, according to Global Conservation.

Wildlife crime is a multi-stage chain which includes the planning, poaching, distribution,

transportation, processing, selling and money laundering, activities in which drug, human and arm traffickers also participate. This chain offers many touch points in which players can be recorded and identified. But as with all criminal activities, exposing the people involved is risky and dangerous. One needs an incentive.

The most powerful incentive—the same that motivates illegal activities, is money. Monetary

rewards can also be used as incentives to enlist the confidential help of citizens in identifying the offenders and bringing them to justice, if indeed, the information results in a successful prosecution.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples, points out that “indigenous land contains 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but local people are criminalized for their efforts to preserve it.” (2019)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) has just publicly released, for the first time, its procedures governing the payment of whistleblower rewards. These procedures have widespread application to illegal fishing, logging and wildlife trafficking prohibited under the Lacey and Endangered Species Acts. The full article can be seen here. But these are not the only avenues to these rewards.

Under the False Claims Act (“FCA”), a US whistleblower plaintiff is entitled to somewhere

between 15% and 30% of the total reward. In 2017 alone, of the 3.7 billion USD recovered by the US government under the False Claims Act, 3.4 billion USD was recovered due to whistleblower disclosures, according to the Department of Justice. Of the recovered funds, whistleblowers received US$392 million in rewards. Additionally, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) whistleblower reward provision, 2,655 non-US citizens from 113 countries filed whistleblower claims from 2011to 2017, valued at over $30 million USD.

From Scott Hajost, Managing Director, Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program, National Whistleblower Center, who writes in the IUCN blog, Crossroads, “Whistleblowers have been effective at combatting financial and corporate crime, but are sorely lacking in the sphere of wildlife crime. If empowered to combat it, whistleblowers could be fundamental to dismantling the wildlife crime economy, and ...we can change the calculus of participating in wildlife crime. If we make reporting crime more lucrative than participating in it, there will be a sea change in how the wildlife crime industry functions.

For more information on The Global Whistleblowers Program.

2/24/21: Bonnie Wyper, Thinking Animals United

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