On 18th March 2003, MPs in the House of Commons passed a motion to authorise military action in Iraq by 412 votes to 149. Two days later, the most contentious war in my lifetime began and tomorrow the Ministry of Defence will commemorate this forlorn milestone.
From a strategic viewpoint, the false intelligence did huge harm after it was discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The repercussions in terms of public support for military operations are still being felt today as the logistics planning and combat training were woefully inadequate and caused the unnecessary death of many soldiers, marines and pilots, including crewmen from my regiment. Reputational damage increased as the insurgency continued until the ignominious withdrawal from Basra after six years.
Despite all the recriminations about the war, it is still right that we remember those who were killed (on all sides) and offer sympathy to the families affected and to the thousands of people who are still touched by the consequences. I will be particularly thinking of Corporal Steve Albutt and Trooper Dave Clarke in my old squadron, who both died in a fratricide attack that destroyed their Challenger battle tank on 25 March 2003.
This week sees the third reading in Parliament of the Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies. As a committed conservationist who has never hunted, but travelled all over Africa, I am really concerned that in its current form this new law will make the current situation much worse.
The problem was articulated succinctly by the ecologist George Monbiot when he asserted that the hunting industry in Southern Africa has “contributed to the remarkable rise in the number of both white and black rhinos…”
The bottom line is that prohibition of wildlife hunting in Africa is likely to result in the increased slaughter of wild animals that pose a threat either to life (e.g. lions), or livelihoods (e.g. elephants).
What is needed is a comprehensive strategy to provide alternative incentives to the farmers and communities that facilitate the hunting and better control to prevent poaching. If we are going to interfere in Africa, we need to fully understand the consequences of our decisions in terms of species conservation.
Although climate activists seems to attract most of the environmental headlines, there other arguably more important United Nations frameworks than the one discussed at COP 27 in Egypt last year.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, which amongst other things seeks to cut the rate that animals are becoming extinct and links to international conservation organisations, has its own Conference of the Parties where participants recently agreed a historic deal, despite protests from some nations. The ambition of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework is to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and cut the extinction rate for all species by a factor of ten by 2050. This over-arching agreement provides the structure to restore degraded areas and to police the trade in endangered species. World Wildlife Day on 3 March is important to highlight this work by dedicated conservationists and international task forces tackling environmental crime, reported to be worth $281 Billion per year.
The High Seas Treaty that was signed today after nearly 20 years negotiation, is perhaps an even greater success story and I hope that one day it will be looked upon as ground-breaking as The Antarctic Treaty. Having been involved in marine conservation projects since the 1980s, I congratulate the delegates and look forward to the agreement being enforced through the Convention on the Law of the Sea.