CITES 16th COP Concludes with Historic Decisions for Threatened Species
The sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) concluded on March 14th, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand. More than 2,000 participants from 170 countries witnessed historic decisions on the protection of more than fifty species of animals and plants including sharks, turtles, manta ray and timber.
Drafted in 1973, the purpose of CITES is to protect certain species at risk of extinction because of trade. The convention has been broadly accepted, and it currently boasts 178 members. It operates with three lists of species, known as ‘appendices’, that are managed under different regulations and restrictions. These listings are the major points of discussions in COPs. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction, whose trade is only allowed under special circumstances. Appendix II refers to species that are not necessarily in risk of extinction, but that may be at risk if their trade is not regulated. Finally, Appendix III includes those species whose trade specific member-state would like to see regulated.
Negotiations took place between March 3th and 14th, including a final plenary to approve the decisions made by the different committees.The discussions around some species received special attention. Member states agreed to add five shark species, including the whitetip and the hammerhead sharks, to Appendix II. A proposal to add the manta ray to this list was adopted, which is particularly relevant given the increasing vulnerability of these animals.
On the contrary, the proposal to move the polar bear from Appendix II to I failed to pass. The united front presented by the U.S. and Russia did not overcome the opposition from Canada and Denmark and their arguments about the cultural and traditional value of polar bear hunting for their native peoples.
COP16 also resulted in important decisions to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of the implementation of the convention, as well as strengthening the prosecution of violators of CITES trade policy. In particular, state parties moved to create illegal trade reporting mechanisms for great apes, to request countries with high levels of illegal ivory trade to submit plans to address this problem, and to extend the protection to endangered rhinos in countries such as Vietnam, Mozambique, and South Africa. Even though some groups called for stronger measures and trade sanctions around this issues, others recognized the efforts of CITES as a major milestone to reduce illegal trade and poaching of endangered animals. Additionally, Thailand, as a host country, announced that the government would start to work towards ending their domestic ivory trade and towards the protection of timber species.
As observers commented, after COP16 there is the perception that CITES is actually a useful instrument for global trade enforcement. The extent of the discussions at the COP, the media coverage, and special attention paid to penalties for violators are all evidence for CITES’ strength. As CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said, “CITES Parties have heeded the call from Rio+20 and recognised the important role of CITES as an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment, and development”
The next COP will be held in South Africa in 2016.