As part of its plans to be the first net zero emissions, zero pollution continent by 2050, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, personally championed by First Executive Vice-President Timmermans, on 20th May.
It proposes among other issues “… a further tightening of the rules on EU ivory trade” while nonetheless maintaining a thriving ivory market itself.
“A further tightening of the rules …” is hardly progress. Under the Juncker Commission, which left office on 30th November 2019, significant strides were being made to close the loopholes in the EU’s ivory trade.
The Von der Leyen “Green Deal” Commission has, however, demonstrated scant political will to maintain - let alone increase - that momentum. It is this type of double standard that we can no longer stand for.
“We are tired of these lectures that constantly come from the North, telling us how to manage our spaces while they ignore the implications of their actions. Frankly, the EU has failed to read the mood across the world,” says Dr Winnie Kiiru, Senior Technical Advisor for the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI), an organisation comprising of 21 African countries working to secure the protection of African elephants.
As an elephant biologist for the past 20 years, Kiiru has fought for the ban of ivory across the world and is not impressed by the EU’s double standards. “Countries that had thriving markets such as China and the US have gone ahead to ban ivory trade - it seems very odd that the EU won’t follow suit.”
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory devastated populations of savanna and forest elephants across Africa. The total numbers of savanna elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015, while forest elephants were hit even harder.
In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years. If current poaching levels continue, elephants may be extinct in the wild within the decade – and this will be thanks in no small measure to the EU’s ivory market, among the largest in the world.
Poaching of African elephants continues unabated. The fight for countries to shut down the international ivory trade has borne some fruit with key nations such as the USA, UK and China responding to global pressure and closing their domestic ivory markets.
This action has been accompanied by a decrease in poaching within some parts of Africa, primarily in East Africa. However, in other regions, notably West, Central and Southern Africa, the poaching trend has not declined.
If anything, poaching levels are increasing in new hotspots, as major global ivory markets have remained open, notably those of Japan and the European Union.
This makes the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, as part of the highly ambitious Green Deal suite of policy initiatives all the more extraordinary.
Aiming to provide ‘guidance’ to African countries on steps to take in order to maintain and improve our biodiversity, it is supremely ironic that the EU’s ivory market is effectively a key contributor of the destruction of Africa’s natural heritage.
Laundering ‘legal’ ivory into the illegal market. It is all the more surprising to note this somewhat misguided act of charity has no roots within the EU.
The European Commission continues to maintain that the EU’s ivory market deals only with old ivory stocks and has no influence on current poaching levels.
Yet, recent studies have shown that ivory pieces can be aged and made to seem older than they actually are. Limiting the trade to small ivory pieces is also no solution, as carving operations have now been established in elephant range states.
This ongoing consumption of ivory puts the safety of the African elephants at great risk because, by giving ivory a value it prolongs demand, which maintains the push for supply.
Until the EU shuts down its domestic market, ivory will continue to be laundered into European markets under the guise of being ‘old or small stock’.
“The EU needs to appreciate the role of any African market in increasing the cost of law enforcement in African countries and destroying livelihoods. Furthermore, their strategy will be impossible to realize in Africa until they shut down their ivory markets,” Kiiru maintains.
Critically, ivory has no value within Africa; it is only countries outside that continue to clamour for it and by so doing fuel poaching across the continent.
And so, however good the intentions were in writing the EU Biodiversity Strategy, I am reminded of a song my mother would sing: “Sweep your yard before you come and sweep mine”. This is precisely what the EU needs to do.
The time for decisive action is now. Overall, the importance of healthy elephant populations is to increase and help support our African biodiversity, and they are part of our cultural heritage.
We cannot afford to lose them for the sake of demand by foreigners in Europe and elsewhere for trinkets.
Again it remains clear, the EU needs to re-examine its so-called ‘role’ in promoting global biodiversity; here in Africa, what it does in reality is continue to endanger African elephants.
Rosie Awori is the Communications, Marketing and Youth Affairs officer of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network
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