A global mission has finally begun to promote sustainable wildlife use for current and future generations
01 Mar 2023
Written by Francis Vorhies, AWEI Director, WildCRU Research Visitor, IUCN SULi Member
The Global Biodiversity Framework launched at the Conference of Parties meeting in Montreal in December 2022 provides a global mandate for countries to create partnerships to promote wildlife enterprise that restores rather than converts landscapes to other land uses. The theme for World Wildlife Day 2023 embraces this vision.
With the launch of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) in December 2022, our governments put wildlife back on the biodiversity agenda, issuing a bold call to promote its sustainable use. Launched at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), the Framework lists an ambitious set of goals and targets to support its vision that “by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used”.
The term wild — as in wildlife or wilderness — appears seven times in the GBF. This may not in itself seem significant, but it is worth considering how the term’s use has changed. Before the Convention on Biological Diversity launched in 1992, the term wild was widely used in international conservation policy. For example, in the World Conservation Strategy (1980) and Caring for the Earth (1992) — both authored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Wildlife Fund — the term wild appeared more than 90 and 70 times, respectively. Contrast this to the original CBD text of 1992 where it only appears once in the articles, in a reference to sourcing genetic resources. With the new Framework, international conservation policy is being rewilded.
More significant is what the GBF and related decisions of the December meeting are calling for us to do with wildlife. Quite rightly, increasing wildlife numbers has been set as a priority. Goal A of the GBF states that “by 2050 … the abundance of native wild species is increased to healthy and resilient levels”. In the targets, however, the GBF clearly connects this increase in wildlife populations to their sustainable use for human benefit:
Target 5 – Ensure that the use, harvesting and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal …
Target 9 – Ensure that the management and use of wild species are sustainable, thereby providing social, economic and environmental benefits for people …
The potential for new and innovative partnerships to ensure that this use is sustainable, safe, legal, and beneficial, is made explicit in the COP15 decision on Sustainable Wildlife Management:
“The Conference of the Parties… Requests the Executive Secretary [of the CBD], in consultation with Parties, other Governments, indigenous peoples and local communities, and other members of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management, and other relevant stakeholders and right holders, subject to the availability of resources… [to] collaborate with all relevant actors and stakeholders in order to promote the mainstreaming of the sustainable use of biodiversity, in particular that of wild species, into all relevant sectors.”
This decision supports new partnerships to promote the mainstreaming of wild species into all sectors. It is fitting that the theme of World Wildlife Day 2023 (3 March) is “Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation”.
Such partnerships can promote the restoration and maintenance of landscapes and habitats through wildlife enterprise, as also recognised in this COP15 decision:
Sustainable wildlife management can significantly contribute to biodiversity conservation, as opposed to alternatives that may result in land-use changes that may be harmful to the environment and ecosystems.
Wildlife enterprise, unlike demand reduction strategies and alternative livelihood approaches to wildlife use, can restore rather than convert landscapes to other land uses. The GBF describes wildlife enterprise as “sustainable biodiversity-based activities, products and services that enhance biodiversity”. Wildlife enterprise can be an effective area-based conservation measure that also enhances livelihoods and strengthens community well-being. Promoting sustainable wildlife enterprise, however, requires new and innovative partnerships among local communities, landowners, entrepreneurs, investors, consumers, conservationists, rural developers, and policymakers.
Looking across the African continent — particularly across its magnificent savannahs — there is a real opportunity to develop public-private partnerships to promote a sustainable wild meat sector, for example. A revitalised wild meat sector could catalyse increased populations of plains game and the restoration of savannah ecosystems. Kenya provides an illustration of how this can be beneficial: two-thirds of the wildlife on its savannahs have been lost since the 1970s, replaced by much larger biomass of livestock. Rebuilding the wild meat sector in the country would contribute to landscape conservation, food security, and rural development.
There are exciting opportunities beyond wild meat. The GBF notes that we depend on biodiversity for “food, medicine, energy, clean air and water, security from natural disasters as well as recreation and cultural inspiration”. Wildlife enterprise could service all of these needs and more. Wild plants provide food, medicines, and fuel. Restored forest ecosystems can clean our air through sequestering carbon and can deliver fresh water through protecting watersheds. However, to deliver these wild goods and services, we need an enabling policy environment, and we need voluntary standards and assurance mechanisms to deliver equitable and sustainable products.
The recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can be a key platform for developing wildlife enterprises that conserve areas and deliver wildlife products across the continent. With its commitment to reduce non-tariff barriers, the AfCFTA will enable the expansion of intra-African trade of wildlife products. To provide certainty in standards and assurance mechanisms, much work must be done to build on pathbreaking initiatives such as FairWild which certifies sustainably harvested wild plants.
The growth of African markets for sustainable African wildlife products will require numerous new public-private partnerships operating at national, regional, and continental levels to support the development of goods and services derived from wild animals and plants. The GBF and related decisions of CBD COP15 have provided us with a global mandate to promote such new partnerships for sustainable wildlife use.