China, the world’s largest ivory consumer, will implement a comprehensive ban on the controversial trade by the end of 2017, in a move hailed by conservationists.
The announcement by the State Council on Friday night follows through on a commitment made in September 2015 during a meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Barack Obama. The US enacted regulations banning the trade in July.
Lo Sze Ping, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund’s China office, praised Beijing’s “determination and strong leadership to reduce demand for ivory and help save Africa’s elephants”.
“Closing the world’s largest ivory market will deter people in China and beyond from buying ivory and make it harder for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stocks,” Ms Lo added.
The WWF estimates that as many as 20,000 elephants are killed every year to meet demand for ivory.
Chinese factories and retailers that produce and sell ivory products will begin to surrender their licences and close in March, the State Council said, with a total ban taking effect by the end of the year.
The State Council added that it would help the country’s ivory carvers find alternative employment.
The ban highlights the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to take a leading role in global environmental issues such as wildlife conservation and climate change, especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November’s US presidential election.
In 2014, Mr Xi and Mr Obama agreed to a landmark climate change deal that paved the way for this year’s global Paris accord, from which the US president-elect has threatened to withdraw. The Chinese government has promised to honour its carbon reduction commitments
Hong Kong, another major market and transshipment hub for ivory, has promised to phase out the trade by 2021. The WWF has criticised Hong Kong’s timetable for not being ambitious enough, saying that it could be done within two years.
Conservationists also warned of the need for concerted follow-up plans to ensure national bans such as China’s are effective. “Closing legal markets is an important step but the illegal trade will continue to flourish unless countries rigorously implement their national ivory action plans,” said Zhou Fei at Traffic, which monitors the global wildlife trade.
Chronic air and water pollution across China has heightened popular awareness of environmental and conservation issues. Chinese celebrities such as Yao Ming, the retired basketball star, have fronted national campaigns against the consumption of ivory, shark fin and other wildlife products.
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