I welcome this important discussion and I am grateful to the governments of Gabon and of Germany, who are providing the driving force behind this initiative. Illicit wildlife trafficking represents a criminal trade of billions of dollars each year.
It is a threat to people and to the planet’s resources.
Key species are being driven to extinction.
The proceeds of illegal trade support transnational organized crime and terror organizations.
Murder and violence go hand-in-hand with this despicable business.
The illegal trade in wildlife and endangered species is linked to drug smugglers, gun runners and human trafficking.
It is a threat to all three pillars of our organization – human rights, peace and security, and development.
Fragile and conflict-affected states are particularly vulnerable because they lack the means to adequately regulate the exploitation of natural resources and control borders.
For example, the Lord’s Resistance Army is known to be engaged in the illegal ivory trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The illicit gain it generates is sustaining conflict.
The Secretary-General has identified poaching as a major national and subregional security concern for the Central African region.
The Security Council has also spoken out.
The illegal ivory trade has doubled since 2007. Some consignments seized by authorities have contained tusks from hundreds of elephants.
The most recent data suggests that over 25,000 African elephants were killed in 2011. Preliminary studies for 2012 show a similarly bleak figure.
Scores of elephants were recently poisoned at a water hole in Zimbabwe.
And rhinoceros poaching in South Africa has reached record levels, driven by demand from middle class consumers, primarily in Asia.
Illegal trade in wild species is not piecemeal.
Operations are organized on a large scale.
Illicit trafficking is theft from Governments who lose out on valuable tax revenues and from those who depend on natural resources.
The tourism industries of many developing countries depend upon their varied fauna, their pristine rainforests, their vibrant coral reefs.
Other sources of income such as agriculture, sustainable timber harvesting and fishing, and pharmaceutical research, rely on secure and well-managed biodiversity.
We all have a role in stopping the destruction.
A coordinated interagency effort is under way and is being strengthened in response.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is working closely with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), whose Secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Programme.
CITES protects more than 35,000 endangered species and works to prevent international trade from threatening their survival. Its importance for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity was emphasized in the Rio+20 outcome document.
The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, launched in 2010, comprises the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization. It is widely regarded as one of the most significant achievements to date in achieving coordinated support for national enforcement authorities.
The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime also plays a vital role in enabling greater international cooperation.
But, to make the fight effective, Member States must strengthen penalties against wildlife crime.
At the same time, we need to quash demand.
That means educating populations about the real cost of poaching and trafficking.
UNTV, UNEP and UN Goodwill Ambassadors are reaching out to audiences that may not otherwise hear this vital message.
We all have a role to play.
Let us send a powerful message that we are united against criminals and in support of sustainably managing our natural resources for the benefit of all.
We have seen it done before in respect to elephants some 30 years ago.
We can do it again -- not just for elephants but for all illegally trafficked wild species.
The mounting pace of slaughter and the degradation of natural habitats must stop.
It requires a multifaceted response and concerted action.
That is why I am delighted to greet so many distinguished guests here today.
I urge all of you to join these and other efforts.