WCO celebrates World Wildlife Day under the theme “Sustaining all life on Earth”

03 March 2020

Third March is an important day for the World Customs Organization (WCO) as it joins the international community in celebrating the United Nations’ (UN) World Wildlife Day, reiterating the WCO’s continuing support to its close partner and key actor in the protection of biodiversity: the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

2020 is coined as a “super year” for the environment, with a series of key international meetings focusing on environmental action. In line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the theme of World Wildlife Day 2020 is “Sustaining all life on earth.” The UN General Assembly also declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. Therefore, this year is a unique opportunity to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health, and biodiversity in general, is vital to sustaining life on earth, including human well-being. Preserving biodiversity does not only safeguard the environment, it also helps to protect peoples’ livelihoods and health, while enabling economies to thrive.

Such commitment is more relevant than ever, especially following the massive seizures of wildlife goods made by Customs administrations globally throughout 2019, such as the seizure in May, by Mexico Customs of 10.4 tons of shark fins destined for the Philippines, and between April and July alone Singapore Customs seized 37.5 tons of pangolin scales.

The UN International expert group on biodiversity estimates that 1 million species of flora and fauna are under threat of extinction in the next few decades, including 23% of bird species, 25% of plant species, 33% of coral reefs, 40% of amphibian species, 10% of insect species, and more than a third of marine mammals. Furthermore, the devastation of the environment has serious consequences on human lives, such as rampant illegal logging, that lead to massive floods and mudslides when storms happen, destroying houses and infrastructure.  

As part of Customs efforts to contribute to the preservation of global biodiversity, WCO has chosen the following theme for 2020: “Customs fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet.” In this regard, International Customs Day on 26 January 2020 was dedicated to the contribution of Customs towards a sustainable future where social, economic, health and environmental needs are at the heart of Customs actions. This commitment was reiterated during the recent WCO Enforcement Committee, in Brussels from 24 to 28 February 2020.

“It is very encouraging to see that Customs administrations globally are increasingly recognizing the seriousness of environmental crimes and are implementing decisive measures in their national strategies to combat these activities. However, we encourage them to take further steps and to play a more prominent role in this fight as a matter of urgency,” said WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya. “The focus on sustainability for all life on earth in 2020 is fully in line with the WCO’s annual theme, and Customs officers all over the world are urged to strengthen their efforts in ensuring a sustainable, secure, and inclusive future for all. The WCO will continue to support its 183 Members in their efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking as well as other environment-related crimes,” he concluded.

Worldwide, Customs is the first point of entry and last point of exit, ensuring that every commodity that enters or leaves a country, including goods in transit, is in compliance with legislations and procedures. Thus, Customs has a key role in ensuring that wildlife is preserved and legal trade is conducted with vigilant controls and using efficient risk profiling techniques.

However, Customs alone cannot stop the illegal wildlife trade (IWT). Close partnerships and collaboration between Customs, government agencies and other actors along the supply chain is essential to win this fight. As such, the WCO is a partner of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which also includes the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the World Bank. A perfect example of the power of partnerships is Operation Thunderball, a global enforcement operation conducted in June 2019 and co-led by the WCO and INTERPOL, with the support of the CITES Secretariat. This operation was a major success, with over 1,828 seizures and close to 600 suspects identified. The WCO activities conducted under the ICCWC Programme are generously funded by the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The WCO also supports its Members to combat the IWT, notably through the WCO INAMA Project, generously funded by the US Department of State and the German Development Agency (GiZ), providing comprehensive training to targeted Customs administrations, as well as support in implementing CITES regulations and in ensuring the provision of IWT training in their national Customs curricula.

Last year, a Customs-led operation, code-named Praesidio, conducted under the auspices of the INAMA Project and in cooperation with INTERPOL, AIRPCOP and the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme, netted impressive seizures throughout Africa and Asia.

On 3 March 2020, all WCO Members and Customs’ partners are called upon to strengthen their dedication to preserving our planet and all its living creatures, as a healthy planet results in a striving human race.