Illegal Wildlife Trade and Climate Change: Joining the Dots

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently released a paper titled “Illegal Wildlife Trade and Climate Change: Joining the dots”. It was released at the side event during the COP27 held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

What are the key highlights of the paper?

  • Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) should not just be viewed from the conservation perspective since it has a cascading effect on the functioning of ecosystems and the processes that affect climate.
  • Currently, policymakers only treat IWT as a threat to species survival, overlooking its impact on ecosystem services related to climate change.
  • The paper highlighted five types of relationships between the IWT and climate change and showed that the IWT has several key implications on the functioning and resilience of ecosystems, including the persistence of carbon stocks.
  • The report pointed out the role of trees belonging to genus Dalbergia. While these slow-growing trees are commercially important for high wood density, they also play a major role in long-term carbon sequestration and storage.
  • The paper also highlighted the role of three animals providing highly specialized ecosystem services to climate change but are threatened because of IWT.
  • The three animals – the elephants, white rhinos, and pangolins – were termed as “Ecosystem Engineers” since they shape the fundamental abiotic processes.
  • According to the paper, African Forest Elephant’s population declined by 86 per cent in the last three decades because of habitat loss and illegal poaching for ivory. The species reduces above-ground carbon through grazing and disturbance. They influence nutrient transport and plant communities, thus impacting the ecosystems and increasing the carbon stocks.
  • Removal of the African forest elephant’s population can result in a 7 per cent decline in the aboveground biomass in Central African rainforests.
  • The Rhinoceros, which is listed as near threatened in the IUCN List, affect carbon cycle through soil compaction and disturbance (bioturbation). These factors are playing a major role in controlling wildfires, which are among the key contributors of carbon emissions.
  • Pangolins are among the most trafficked animals in the world. They play a unique role regulating the population of ants and termites. Termites play an important role in decomposition process. However, this process cause some 1 to 3 per cent of natural global annual emissions.

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