Alongside the chaos, misery and tragedy experienced by billions under the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was also a year in which so many struggled through the crisis to keep the world functioning as close to normal as possible.
The impact of COVID-19 on EIA has been significant, curtailing our ability to work in other countries, but our amazing staff rallied to ensure our vital work continues.
And with many wildlife criminals also having to work from home, our investigators have adapted accordingly to infiltrate and monitor their activities online.
As ever, we couldn’t have done it without all those supporters and donors who have helped to see us through these unique and challenging times – our sincere gratitude goes out to you all.
Here are just a few highlights from 2020 to show just how much meaningful change a small organisation such as EIA can achieve. You can read a fuller account of our activities in our 2020 Year in Review.
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WILDLIFE AND CORONAVIRUS: Since March, our Wildlife campaigners have uncovered instances of ingredients from endangered bears and pangolins being used in traditional ‘medicines’ – and touted by the Chinese Government as suitable treatments for the coronavirus. Additionally, we exposed an illegal trader in Vietnam offering tiger bone ‘glue’ paste as a way of generally staying healthy during the pandemic.
KEEPING THE LAWS: Together with our long-standing Indonesian partner Kaoem Telapak, we mobilised an international effort from April to stop a new Indonesian Government trade regulation from taking effect which would have deregulated and undermined a system in place supporting the supply of legal wood products to the EU.
IN THROUGH THE BACK DOOR: In June, we released The Croatian Connection, exposing how high-risk teak from Myanmar was being snuck into Europe via Croatia, avoiding scrutiny through the EU Timber Regulation.
GLOBAL RESPONSE TO PLASTIC: 2020 saw work begin in earnest in pursuit of a global convention to tackle plastic pollution; in June we launched a briefing, translated into all UN languages, to help with our advocacy towards a global treaty and have enjoyed considerable success in encouraging various countries to come aboard, especially among the Pacific islands. In November, the UK Government came out in support of a global convention, joining the two-thirds of other countries already backing one.
TIPPING OVER?: This year, our Climate team worked to spread awareness of climate change tipping points – the warming thresholds which, once crossed, can create irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes to vital ecosystems – making the case for swift action to be rid of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are widely used climate-harming refrigerant gases and phasing them out fast would bring quick benefits to the climate.
SCALES OF EXPLOITATION: Our first major report on the global pangolin trade was released in October; Smoke and Mirrors exposed China as the primary destination for the vast quantities of pangolin scales trafficked internationally every year from Asia and Africa.
FISHING FOR CHANGE: In April, we released the briefing Nothing Fishy About It, an analysis of fishing gear-related measures at the International Maritime Organization which set us on a path to accelerating action to address plastic pollution from fishing vessels.
CROSSOVER CRIME: Our work on the convergence between wildlife and timber trafficking revealed that maritime transport and air freight are the major facilitators of illegal trade. This grew out of our ‘nexus’ work looking at the crossover points of different types of environmental crime and we are now engaging with the maritime sector to tackle the problem.
ANOTHER MEANING OF HFC: To spread wider awareness of the ongoing damage done by HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), in June we produced an HFC of our own – the animated short film Heading for Catastrophe?
HORRIFIC TIGER TRADE: The March report On the Butcher’s Block – The Mekong Tiger Trade Trail exposed ongoing criminal trade in tigers and their body parts and products in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
LIFE’S A GAS: New research made plain the huge climate win of moving to propane-based domestic air-conditioning. Simply switching over from climate-harming refrigerant gases to propane could prevent harmful emissions equal to 1,400 coal-fired power stations running for a year!
A GROUND ZERO FOR POACHING: As 2020 drew to a close, December’s Out of Africa became our final report of the year, revealing how West and Central Africa have emerged as major sourcing and export hubs for the illegal trafficking of elephant ivory and pangolin scales to Asia.
BLOOD MONEY: “Follow the money” is a common enough dictum for those pursuing criminals, so why isn’t it often employed to combat wildlife crime? Our July report Money Trails looked at the current state of play and argued for using financial investigations and anti-money laundering laws as standard when investigating wildlife crime.
Our colleagues at EIA US in Washington, D.C. were busy too. Here’s just a taste of what they’ve achieved in 2020:
- In September, they released The Pebble Tapes, recordings of conversations with executives behind the contested – and potentially devastating – Pebble Mine in Alaska, in which they were boasting to our investigators, posing as potential investors, of their influence in the White House. The tapes compelled opposition to the mine by Alaska’s two senators and resulted in the immediate resignation of the company’s lead US executive. In November, after nearly two decades of persistent opposition by local indigenous and community groups, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied Pebble’s permit.
- The EIA US Climate team launched the Climate-Friendly Supermarkets Scorecard assessing US supermarkets on their actions to reduce their use and emissions of climate-harming HFCs; additionally, the final draft of HFC regulation released by the state of California contained elements advocated by EIA on supermarkets, ice rinks and refrigerant reclaim.
- In the summer, the US Forest team released Cashing in on Chaos, the result of a three-year investigation into the Senegal-Gambia-China illegal rosewood trade. Following the report, the fourth largest shipping line in the world announced a total moratorium on the transport of wood from The Gambia, as well as the creation of a global blacklist of shippers involved in the illegal trade of protected and endangered species.