Opening remarks of CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero at the Wilton Park Virtual Dialogue on Post 2020 wildlife trade: current challenges and opportunities

Opening remarks of CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero at the Wilton Park Virtual Dialogue on Post 2020 wildlife trade: current challenges and opportunities, 18 March 2021


Minister Lord Goldsmith,
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Dear colleagues,

Thank you warmly to the United Kingdom Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or DEFRA for inviting me to address this important event on reducing demand for illegal wildlife.

I wish also to convey our warm greetings to the CITES Management Authority of the United Kingdom and the representatives of Asian nations participating here today, and our sincere congratulations to the Government of the United Kingdom for this initiative.

As you may know, CITES is the fundamental international legal framework governing trade in wild animals and plants. And, over time, CITES has evolved in order to address the challenges of wildlife trafficking and wildlife crime. Wildlife trafficking affects not only the iconic animal species but over 7,000 species of wild animals and plants.

Well-regulated, legal and sustainable trade in wildlife supports livelihoods of groups who closely rely on nature and provides sustainable, resilient opportunities for local and national economies. Illegal trade, on the other hand, depletes our most valuable ecosystems, endangering species, undermining livelihoods and exposing us all to public health risks.

The task of tackling wildlife trafficking is a complex challenge because of the wide range of motivations behind the demand for illegal wildlife and their products. They can be sought after for medicinal or fashion purposes, as pets, status symbols or for investment. It will, therefore, take a holistic approach to end wildlife trafficking and wildlife crime.

This means making efforts to enforce the law, punish the criminals involved in wildlife trafficking, promote demand reduction and provide incentives to rural communities to conserve wildlife. Demand reduction efforts should be well-targeted and aim to achieve behavioural change.

CITES Parties agreed strongly with this approach and, at CITES CoP17 in 2016, the 183 Parties to CITES adopted their first, ground-breaking resolution on demand reduction. This Resolution called for government-led, well targeted, species-specific, and country-specific strategies to tackle demand for illegally sourced wildlife.

Three years later, Parties at CoP18 further agreed to develop a Guidance for demand reduction strategies. The Guidance, which is being developed in partnership with TRAFFIC, will provide specific guidelines for the development and implementation of well-targeted demand reduction strategies. Work on the Guidance will include market research to establish evidence-based, standard methodologies to understand the drivers and dynamics of demand, and the development of specific messaging for target audiences to effectively bring about behaviour change.

Demand for wild animals and plants exists in countries around the world. As the world’s economic powerhouses in recent years, some Asian countries have witnessed the rise of illegal wildlife flows. However, in close collaboration with conservation organizations, some of these countries have scaled up their efforts in reducing demand for illegal wildlife with innovative and well-targeted campaigns. Examples of effective campaigns include the Chi campaign in Vietnam, which addressed demand for rhino horn in business circles, or the “Green Collection” initiative in China, to respond to demand driven by art investment and speculation. While the results of government efforts to change citizens’ behaviour will vary across countries, early research shows that efforts by authorities in Asian nations are having results.

You are meeting to discuss demand reduction in the context of the current pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the world and forced us to pause and consider our unsustainable relationship with nature

We should use this moment also as an opportunity for new demand reduction initiatives and collaboration amongst CITES Parties as illegally sourced wildlife poses a great risk to both public health and national economies. A collective call from countries in the Asian region will send a strong message to halt our destructive and unsustainable activities in all ecosystems on our planet.

There are further upcoming events such as CoP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, APEC 2021, and the 38th ASEAN Summit; these forums would provide an excellent opportunity to gather support and further commit to reducing demand for illegal wildlife products.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you and I wish you a very successful outcome of your discussions.


Learn more about the Wilton Park Virtual Dialogue on Post 2020 wildlife trade: current challenges and opportunities here.