Message of CITES Secretary-General for World Environment Day 2019

We share our planet with millions of species of wild animals and plants. We drink the same water as they do, enjoy (or survive) the same weather, and breathe the same air. Every year on World Environment Day, we acknowledge the need to protect our natural environment for the benefit of humankind. But let us at the same time also remember how our actions affect other species and the ecosystems that they create.

Wildlife faces many threats. According to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which was released last month, the main direct drivers of species extinction are (in descending order) changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms (including hunting, fishing and logging), climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. To ensure the survival of wild animals and plants we must reduce the impact of each of these hazards.

Air pollution harms wildlife of all types and sizes. Acid rain, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and other toxic chemicals enter the soil, water and plants. From there they are absorbed by animals at the bottom of the food chain before being taken up by those at the top. Pollutants that enter through the lungs, the skin or the stomach can impair breathing, internal organs, reproduction and the immune system. The same damages that are experienced by humans are experienced by animals. 

CITES takes the lead in addressing the direct exploitation of wildlife – the second most important driver of extinction – by ensuring that trade is sustainable. But our efforts can only succeed if the other causes of extinction are also reduced. Species that are weakened by air pollution, land-use change or climate change become more vulnerable to unsustainable trade. This why the CITES community works with partners that specialize in other aspects of the biodiversity crisis, including pollution.

People and wildlife – virtually no living species has evolved to thrive in a world full of toxic chemicals. On this World Environment Day, let us all do our part to help reduce air pollution. Together we can #BeatAirPollution.


Ivonne Higuero
CITES Secretary-General

5 June 2019