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By Lorelei Goodall


On March 3, 2020, the United Nations marked World Wildlife Day with the introduction of the End Wildlife Crime Initiative. Put forward as a way to encourage nations to fill international enforcement gaps, the agreement is intended to “unif[y] global action” and to “stop the decline of ecosystems, reverse the extinction crisis facing wild animals and plants, and eliminate threats to human health.” Under this new initiative, there are several proposed solutions to the increasingly apparent breach in international trade governance. One solution includes the adoption of a protocol on wildlife crime under the UN, which would include new regulations on trade and wildlife such as bans on wildlife consumption and trade in relation to wet markets. Such measures may include bans on high-risk wet markets on the basis of public health like banning entry to non regulated markets. A second proposed solution includes a new agreement with the World Health Organization to instill revised regulations and guidelines to wildlife trade and consumption. The third proposed solution includes amending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) guidelines to include public health guidelines and enforcement methods to decrease the possibility of the next global pandemic. According to John E. Scanlon, a previous secretary to CITES, amending and including new clauses in the Convention would be the most cost-effective and fastest way to fill this gap in international wildlife trade.


Arief Budi Kusuma / Shutterstock.com

The aim of CITES is “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” As of now, the current Secretary-General of CITES, Ivonne Higuero, has done little to begin the amendment process and to further the outreach of this international agreement. Moreover, she has released little information on what guidelines may be put in place to avoid future zoonotic based pandemics. This leads to the idea that the subsection of the UN devoted to wildlife consumption and protection may not be ready to combat the ever-increasing need to regulate and innovate to protect the public at large from pandemics.


If, in theory, CITES were changed in the near future to include clauses on public health and safety by regulating breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases such as wet markets and ban certain wildlife consumptive practices, the results would be extremely beneficial to wildlife-dependent communities. Well-managed security can create law and stability, thus increasing tourism, sequestering carbon, combating poaching, protecting biodiversity, and creating local jobs. This would create a more stable surrounding economy to the countries most susceptible to illegal wildlife trade and overall improve the quality of life for thousands of individuals. There has been a success with this system in the DRC, more specifically Garamba National Parks. For now, the only thing holding back the possibility of change for the good is the inaction of CITES officials. Change can only happen when those who can make a difference use their power. CITES needs strong leadership at this point in history to enforce new laws and prevent future pandemics as a whole. This process may take months, but the outcome could save the world from the next global pandemic and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Updated: May 20

Yale University awarded Christiana Figueres an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters recognizing her accomplishments as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and beyond. In 2014, a year before the successful Paris Climate Agreement that Figueres was a primary architect of, the University of Massachusetts Boston awarded her an honorary degree. In 2014, Figueres asked the graduating class at UMass Boston to consider two paths: “One is a path of rising temperatures, rising insecurity and rising economic instability. The other is a path where a stable environment sustains growth over generations. I am of course talking about the choice we are collectively making about our response to climate change.” She has worked on promoting the choice of a sustainable future throughout her life and career.

In May 2020, Yale recognized Christiana Figueres’ tireless efforts. As President Peter Salovey remarked, “Your diplomacy has brought people and nations together to address one of the most important issues of our time—climate change. Building bridges instead of borders, you have led countries to action, helping forge international accords to ensure the health and survival of future generations on this planet.” Yale’s and UMass Boston’s honorary degrees are milestones on Christiana Figueres’ journey as a global citizen and leader. Personifying perseverance, Figueres continues to value choice and has committed to choosing a better planetary future for generations to come. To learn more about Christiana Figueres’ vision, please see her book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis co-authored with Tom Rivett-Carnac. In April 2020, Professor Maria Ivanova led an online conversation with Christiana Figueres on climate change that attracted over 2,000 participants.

After failure to negotiate an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, Christiana Figueres took the reins as the executive secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the Paris negotiations in 2015. The negotiation fiasco of 2009 and bomb threats at the venue in Paris shook the start of the event. With Figueres at the helm, she made the tough decision and pushed on with the negotiations ultimately leading to the Paris Agreement. Figueres has since moved on from her role at the UNFCCC, however, her advocacy for climate action remains strong. On April 16, 2020, Figueres joined the UMB community as the 2020 Robert C. Wood Visiting Professor of Public and Urban Affairs to share her experiences and ideas from her coauthored new book, The Future We Choose.


Center Director, Maria Ivanova organized the event to host Christiana Figueres. The event would kick-off Earth Week in anticipation of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. However, things changed. COVID-19 altered lives worldwide. Most national governments instituted shelter-in-place orders and classes and work transitioned online. All the changes caused people to rethink, reframe, and reengage in creative ways.



UMass Boston embraced the changes and decided to host Christiana Figueres through Zoom. Instead of an event only available to local participants, the new orientation allowed for a global community to engage. Dean David Cash welcomed the global community, and Dr. Maria Ivanova moderated the discussion with Christiana Figueres. Initially, the conversation was to focus on Figueres’s new book with her co-author, Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose. However, when faced with the reality of COVID-19, the discussion transformed.

Figueres aptly navigated the concerns of COVID-19 and weaved in the commonalities with climate change. She opened the event with a thoughtful acknowledgement of the challenges of living with COVID-19. She took the time to mention the concern for those who lost their jobs and others whose reality dramatically changed. She stated that “The core of who we are is being tested…It is a daily choice of who we want to be.” Figueres truly understood the challenges of the audience and took time to address them. In doing so, she allowed people to reflect on their experiences with COVID-19 and created the space to talk about both COVID-19 and climate change.


She mentioned four necessary outcomes for climate change: solidarity, multilateralism, thanking and releasing fossil fuels, and regeneration. She emphasized the importance of solidarity as a tenet of human life and connected it to the importance decision-making from local to global. She voiced her concern about the disregard for multilateralism and the need for it to address global climate change and prevent future pandemics. Figueres acknowledged the importance of fossil fuels in the changing lives and providing new opportunities, however, acknowledgement does not mean continuation of use. In fact, she appreciated their contribution, saying we should thank them for their service but send them into retirement. The final outcome that she highlighted was the idea of the regeneration, both of the self and nature. She stated that we have an “extractive perspective” that takes from the Earth and does not and/or cannot replace the natural resources the Earth provides. Instead she suggested a “regenerating nature” in which we embrace the natural resources that do not deplete, disrupt, or pollute the earth.


How can we accomplish these outcomes: Changes in mindset about climate change. Figures and Rivett-Carnac suggests three: stubborn optimism, endless abundance, and radical regeneration. Stubborn optimism is the idea that we should embrace living in a time to address this problem, develop a determined attitude, and inspire others to do the same no matter how challenging it can become. Stubborn optimism retrains “learned helplessness” to recognize that we can create change. Endless abundance seems contrary and almost provocative when thinking about climate change. The authors challenge the current conception of abundance which is usually in opposition to scarcity. They do this because scarcity often conjures fear and spurs competition. Instead, she suggests collaborative pursuits with “shared winning.” Their definition of abundance is reframed to include wind, water, and sun as endless resources, but also human ingenuity, shared information, and collective problem solving. Abundance in this sense reframes the types of resources and includes humans as resources. Radical regeneration presents another change in mindset. In this sense, the relationship between nature and humans is not separate. This idea moves away from extraction and toward building each other. The mindset provides us an option to reframe the way we think about climate change.


The book and the talk emphasize that climate change is “high risk, high probability, and high impact.” However, we have the capital, technologies, and creativity to make the changes to address climate change.


Additionally, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassen joined the conversation to discuss COVID-19, healthcare, and climate change. We appreciate Senator Hassen for joining the conversation.


Additionally, we thank Christiana Figueres for joining us as the 2020 Robert C. Wood Visiting Professor of Public and Urban Affair and sharing her optimism.


#EarthDay2020 #EarthWeek2020UMB #TheFutureWeChoose


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