WILDLIFE champion Zac Goldsmith is making a rallying call to save the planet’s iconic creatures from gangsters in the countdown to the global trafficking summit.
The Conservative MP appointed by the Government as its ambassador in the war on the £18 billion pound a year illegal wildlife trade is calling on world leaders and major businesses to play their part in the battle against mass extinction.
With 55 lions and four rhinos killed daily by poachers for their precious tusks and horns, he says there is an urgent need for “real action” to stop our generation being remembered for stripping the world of its natural wealth.
Not only are endangered species at risk from the terror cells and gangsters who have turned wildlife trade into big business, the fall-out from exploiting nature is also destroying communities, warns Mr Goldsmith.
This week sees London host the biggest ever global summit on Illegal Wildlife Trade. More than 1,000 delegates from 82 countries will be attending the conference that will hear from the Duke of Cambridge, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and world leaders.
The UK Government recently appointed Mr Goldsmith as its official Illegal Wildlife Trade Champion as its underlines the nation’s world leader status in efforts to protect vanishing species. This weekend it pledged an additional £6 million to counter poaching.
As scientists, conservation bodies, law enforcers and politicians gather for the summit, Express.co.uk spoke to Mr Goldsmith about his hopes and aspirations for IWT 2018.
Here, he describes his role as Wildlife Champion and how the UK is a major global player in efforts to combat the scourge of poaching and trafficking
Q: What do you see as the key components of your role as Wildlife Champion?
A: There is no debating the fact that we are wiping out life on Earth. In my lifetime alone, we have lost nearly 60 percent of all wild animals. The world’s great fisheries are being pushed to the point of exhaustion, and we are losing around 20 million hectares of forest a year – the equivalent of 27 football pitches a minute. You don’t need to be good at maths to understand where this will end up.
Part of the cause is the illegal wildlife trade, which is what this summit is about. It’s worth about £18 billion a year, and vastly more than that if you include illegal timber and fish. We’ll have around 85 countries represented, alongside business leaders from around the world. My hope is that they will individually and collectively agree some radical action to tackle this evil trade, and my job is to try to help make that happen.
Q: What concerns you about the effects and implications of illegal wildlife trade?
A: Like anyone, it saddens hugely to think some of the world’s most iconic and magnificent species are being brought to the edge of extinction. But it’s also the case that the trade is big business for some of the worst terrorist and criminal organisations on the planet, and it is destroying the communities that rely on nature for their livelihoods.
Q: Why do you think the UK is such a significant player in combating the scourge of poaching and trafficking?
We’re a nation of animal lovers and that extends beyond our own pets to the wider world. Millions of us were entranced and appalled by the extraordinary Blue Planet series. So when politicians act on these issues, the public back them. And we are well placed to lead. Among other things, we have a superb military and diplomatic network working all over the world to push this agenda. We also have access to a large aid budget and I hope we will see much more of it spent on protecting and restoring nature – not just for nature’s sake, but for ours.
Q: What are you hoping will come about from this week’s London conference?
The first conference in 2014 put this issue right up the agenda, but trends are worsening and we need to step up. I am hoping the countries taking part commit to specific actions from taking on the criminals to tackling the demand that fuels the trade and ensuring the communities on the front line are properly incentivised. I am looking forward to seeing a similar level of commitment from the business world, with for example the giant online retailers showing how they are removing illegal products from their platforms.
Q: Post conference, have you any other initiatives or projects regarding wildlife?
I’m proud of a lot of what the UK is doing, but we need to go further by allocating a bigger share of our aid budget to nature and the people who directly depend on it. We give away nearly £15 billion a year, but less than one per cent of that goes to protecting the natural world. That makes no sense. Nearly half world’s human population directly depends on locally natural resources for its livelihoods and in many cases survival. If we want to prevent mass poverty and instability, we need to protect nature.
Q: Have you a message to those attending the conference?
Conferences of this sort invariably end with declarations of intent. We need those declarations, but we also need them to lead to real action. If we fail, our generation’s legacy will be denuding the world of its natural wealth and given what we already know, that would be unforgivable.
This article first appeared in the Daily Express on 13th October 2018