Opening remarks by Gerda Verburg, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands

Saturday 3 June 2007

Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is my great pleasure to welcome you today at the official opening of the 14th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
 
The Netherlands is honoured to organize this Conference and, with your help, we will do our very best to make it a great success.
 
It has to be, because of the enormous interests at stake.
 
The decisions we now have to make are vital not only for today, but for long into the future.
 
These decisions will affect our children and our children’s children. In places near and far.
 
I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Thai Government for the excellent way it organized and chaired the previous Conference of Parties in Bangkok in 2004.
 
Naturally, the success of that Conference raises expectations here, which I hope we will be able to fulfil, and make this Conference at least equally successful.
 
The City of The Hague has quite some experience with the concept of sustainable development.
 
We organized the sixth Climate Conference here, the World Water Forum and the sixth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
 
I am sure that this Conference will also contribute in a meaningful way to the three pillars of Sustainable Development, People, Planet and Profit.
 
The Hague also has a long association with international law. It is home to a number of international organizations, including the United Nations International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace. These organizations make legal decisions, and enforce them.
 
In the coming weeks I would like to see The Hague tradition of “justice for all people” given a broader meaning, to include all living beings.
 
I believe that we have a real chance of achieving this as CITES is a successful international environmental treaty. Its decisions are not just given lip service, but are really followed through.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
This CITES Conference comes at a very good time.
 
The environment and biodiversity are now being placed high on the international political agenda, in the context of broader development issues.
 
The international trade in animal and plant species represents a considerable economic value worldwide.
 
But if this international trade is conducted carelessly and illegally, it can have far-reaching consequences for nature and the survival of animals and plants.
 
We are at a crucial point in time when it is important to find a balance between sustainable use of our natural resources, including international trade, on the one hand, and an effective means of protecting our animals and plants on the other.
 
The title of this Conference, ‘Call of the Wild’, sets the tone for the dialogues, discussions and debates.
 
We must find a balance to preserve a rich biodiversity in the long term, while taking account of the people who are dependent on it in their daily lives.
 
We should not lose sight of the fact that the greatest concentrations of species diversity are often in countries where economic development is low.
 
I believe that in many cases conservation and sustainable use of our natural resources could go hand in hand with the fight against poverty.
 
As international community we have committed to the goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.
 
In addition, we have promised to make real progress to combat poverty around the world by 2015.
 
CITES can and should not only make a contribution towards the biodiversity goals, but also to the achievement of the broader Millennium Development Goals.
 
There are many crucial issues on the agenda for the next two weeks.
 
In addition to the strategic vision, I expect there will be many important and crucial debates about elephants, marine species and timber.
 
For the implementation and enforcement of the CITES Treaty it is vital that political support is strengthened. That is why, for the first time in the history of CITES, we have organized a Ministerial round-table conference on 13 June.
 
I hope that the agreement and support of Ministers of Nature, and their governments, will strengthen the authority of the Convention and increase its support base in our various countries.
 
I will urge my fellow ministers to do what I consider to be our task as politicians.
 
That is to show leadership, forge alliances and ensure that promises are kept.
 
Firstly, we must demonstrate leadership by giving direction to the agenda of the future.
 
I spoke earlier about the great ambition for biodiversity in relation to the broader development agenda around the world.
 
This also means that important natural resources, like timber and fish, must also be available to all people in a sustainable manner.
 
I would like to discuss with my fellow ministers what the added value of CITES could be in this respect.
 
Secondly, I believe it is important that we as politicians forge alliances.
 
Between politicians and the private sector, as well as civil society, so that we can rely on the continued support of the public.
 
And strengthen our alliances between the various international organizations, because their support and mutual responsibility are indispensable.
 
CITES was one of the first international environmental treaties, there are now many.
 
That of course has consequences.
 
It is most important to keep finding ways for these organizations to work together.
 
After all, there is strength in numbers.
 
CITES has, for instance, instruments for tracking and tracing the trade in threatened species.
 
Other environmental treaties could benefit from cooperation with CITES in this area.
 
The third element is about keeping promises.
 
Or to put it another way, matching words with action. After all, what is the point of having ambitious objectives if we don’t implement them?
 
Or if we don’t ensure we put proper instruments in place to reach the result we need?
 
As politicians we have a responsibility to put instruments in place where they are needed.
 
This is something else I would like to discuss with my fellow ministers.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sincere wish that the 14th Conference of Parties here in The Hague will live up to the expectations.
 
I count on your dedication and commitment to sustainability.
 
We are now making policy for the future of our biodiversity in a world that we would be proud of to pass on to our children.
 
Let us not forget the words of one of our first Secretary-Generals of the United Nations, Dag Hammerskjold, in this regard. He said: “Persons who love nature find a common basis for understanding, since the love for nature is universal among people of all countries”.
 
I would like to wish you all a very successful and inspiring Conference.
 
Thank you.