CITES COP17 to Address Key Challenges in Wildlife Protection
On September 24th, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) opened the seventeenth meeting of its Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Johannesburg (South Africa) to address key challenges in the protection of wildlife from illegal trade. COP17 brings together 3,500 delegates representing national governments, international organizations, and civil society to advance the legal and sustainable trade in wildlife, enhance enforcement, and tackle wildlife trafficking. According to CITES and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), illegal wildlife trade is valued at around $20 million a year, and it is ranked among the world’s largest illicit businesses.
Wildlife crime prevention has become a more critical topic in recent years. As CITES Secretary General John E. Scanlon said in his opening statement to COP17, “There has been an ever increasing level of political interest in wildlife trade issues, in particular on tackling the surge in illegal wildlife trade, and a recognition of the importance of CITES both in its own right and in achieving broader goals and targets, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” He invited delegates to address these challenges, and to develop new targeted actions and partnerships to support the fight against wildlife crime.
Dr. Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, reminded participants that CITES is not only about trade. It is also about economic development, ecosystems and livelihoods. Dr. Molewa invited state parties to work towards a “COP that results in the adoption of proposals based on the listing criteria and sound scientific information,” in order to regulate trade in endangered species without detrimental impacts on wildlife.
The conference is expected to consider around 200 proposals, 62 of them aimed at defining specific trade measures for certain species. Elephants, pangolins, rhino, rosewood, pythons, and sharks are some of the species that will receive special attention. In addition, committees are expected to work on the strategies for the operation of the CITES Secretariat, including its budget, to increase interest and participation in the convention. Countries will also discuss how CITES can cooperation with other multilateral environmental agreements, other international organizations, regional fisheries management organizations, and how to amend CITES Strategic Vision 2008-2020 based on the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Established in 1973, CITES governs trade in more than 35,000 species of plants and animals that are at risk of extinction because of illegal trade and unsustainable use. Its Conference of the Parties meets every three years to debate and agree the regulations for the trade of these species and the convention’s strategic vision and operations. CITES is also one of the conventions included in the Environmental Conventions Initiative developed by the Center for Governance and Sustainability at UMass Boston. This research project aims to assess the implementation of global environmental agreements and to create a policy space that supports the improvement of countries’ performance towards the fulfillment of their environmental goals.
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