Speech by Dr Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator at the Press Conference for the World Environment Day with theme “The fight against illegal trade in wildlife”

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Date: 1 June 2016
Event: Press Conference for the World Environment Day with theme “The fight against illegal trade in wildlife”
Venue: GOUNH, 304 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi

His Excellency Mr. Giles Lever, British Ambassador to Viet Nam;
I would like to warmly welcome Representatives of the Ministries, Development Partner agencies, and the Media to mark the World Environment Day which is on 5th June. This special day is dedicated to raise awareness on specific environmental challenges. This year, the World Environment Day is calling for “zero tolerance for wildlife crime”. The United Nations in Viet Nam believes this theme has particular significance for Viet Nam and the wider Southeast Asian region; and we stand firmly behind the appeal for “zero tolerance for wildlife crime” and we are also pleased that the Government will commemorate Environment Day in Lao Cai which as a border province is vulnerable to trafficking.

Wildlife crime is driving species to the brink of extinction, while posing environmental, economic, development, and security risks. It is well documented that the illegal poaching, trafficking, and trade of elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger products is pushing these iconic species to the brink of extinction; however, many lesser known species such as pangolins, turtles and reptiles are just as seriously threatened.

We are paying a heavy price. Wildlife crime is not only threatening the survival of species, it is also undermining development and the livelihoods of local communities, and threatens our ability to meet the ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda adopted by the Heads of State in UN General Assembly in 2015. For example, the illegal trade in rare timber such as rosewood not only deprives the landscape of a beautiful forest, but it also undermines the opportunity for employment in legitimate trade, contributes to corruption, and then denies Government the chance to generate revenue from legal sales.

In a landmark resolution, the United Nations General Assembly last year called on countries to declare wildlife trafficking a serious criminal offence. The UN is driving an ambitious agenda to recognise wildlife crime as serious crime and a threat to our shared sustainable development. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals have an explicit focus on protecting the integrity of our ecosystems by targeting environmental crimes that take place both on land and at sea. For example, SDG14 calls for an end to illegal and unreported fishing, and destructive fishing practices; while SDG15 calls for urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of fauna and flora, and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is encouraging to see the Government of Viet Nam stepping up its efforts to address wildlife crime, and as World Environment Day approaches, the UN in Viet Nam urges the Government to continue on this track. In particular, we commend:
- The Prime Minister’s Directive issued in 2014 on ‘strengthening the direction and implementation of measures for controlling and protecting endangered, rare and precious wild animals’, which demonstrates political commitment at the highest level to combat wildlife crime;
- Penalties for wildlife crimes in Viet Nam have been significantly strengthened with the adoption of the new Penal Code, which will come into force from the 1st of July;
- There has been a considerable increase in the reported seizures of illegal wildlife products in Viet Nam, with Customs officials making one of the largest-ever seizures in August 2015 when three shipments containing a total of 3.78 tonnes of ivory, 122.5kg of rhino horn, and 4 tonnes of pangolin scales were intercepted at Tien Sa port in Da Nang;
- The world will look to Viet Nam’s international leadership on the issue when it hosts the third Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in November of this year, which will be a critical event to galvanise the international community to take stronger action against wildlife crime;
- And just last week during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Viet Nam, a new partnership between the US and Viet Nam governments to combat wildlife trafficking was announced.

The UN in Viet Nam has been working closely with the Government and with international and national NGOs to combat wildlife crime through various initiatives, and we will continue to collaborate and support these efforts. We believe tackling wildlife crime will require our collective action, cooperating nationally, regionally and internationally, and targeting the most strategic hotspots across the supply chain. Media has a very important role in publicising and reporting cases as well as raising public awareness. We have to all collectively call for zero tolerance for wildlife crime. We need everyone’s voice and contribution in stopping wildlife trafficking in its tracks.

Thank you!