Nineteenth Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean
Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, 13 March 2014
‘The Sustainable Use of Biodiversity’
John E. Scanlon, Secretary General
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Minister Rene Castro, Minister for Environment, Energy and Telecommunications of Costa Rica.
Hon. Ministers, Fellow Executive Heads
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman
I would like to express my sincere thanks for the invitation to join you today, which I think is a first for the CITES Secretariat. I would also like to recognize the CITES Scientific Authority of Mexico, which does an extraordinary job both nationally and through our various committee processes – and it will be hosting a joint meeting of the CITES Plants and Animals Committees in Veracruz next month.
Today, I would like to share with you some of the practical experiences gained under CITES - often involving complex issues touching upon trade, the environment and development.
The concept of the sustainable use of biodiversity is embedded within international agreements - most particularly the Convention on Biological Diversity. The issue that demands our attention is how the concept is given expression in practice.
CITES is a key instrument in this regard - being an international agreement under which trade transactions in specimens of wild plants and animals are authorized on a daily basis and in a measurable and science-based manner.
In doing so, I will be drawing on a sample of the data available through the CITES Trade data base holding records of over 13 million trade transactions, which is arguably the world’s most extensive global database on the sustainable use of wildlife.
CITES is the preeminent global instrument for regulating international trade in wild plants and animals to ensure such trade does not threaten their survival.
The Convention is needed even more today than when it was adopted in 1973 in Washington D.C. and Heads of State and governments at Rio+20, recognized (in the outcome document, The Future We Want), the important role of CITES as an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development.
CITES is both a conservation-related and a trade-related Convention, but it neither promotes nor discourages trade, rather it regulates trade in CITES-listed wildlife when it does take place to ensure it is legal, sustainable and traceable.
The 180 States that are Party to CITES have agreed to regulate international trade in certain species that are threatened with extinction, as well as some species that are not yet threatened with extinction but could be unless their trade is strictly regulated.
CITES currently regulates international trade in about 35,000 species of wild plants and animals, and their parts and derivatives, with close to one million legal trade transactions occurring every year, transactions that are reported to the Secretariat and included in our publicly accessible trade data base.
At the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP16, Bangkok, 2013), hundreds of commercially valuable timber species were brought under CITES controls, along with five commercially harvested shark species and all manta rays, reflecting an intention on the part of CITES Parties to make best use of this pragmatic and effective agreement to help it along the path to sustainability in our oceans and forests.
Of the CITES-listed species, 3% are threatened with extinction and they are found on Appendix I of the Convention. Commercial trade in these species is generally prohibited, such as for most elephants and rhinos, as well as tigers and great apes and certain timbers and marine life.
The vast majority of CITES-listed species, about 96%, are listed in Appendix II. They are not necessarily threatened with extinction but they could become so if international trade were not strictly regulated. Trade in these species is allowed provided it is legal, sustainable and traceable.
Some commercial trade in wildlife is regulated only to ensure legal origin and they are found on Appendix III and represent about 1% of listed species.
Distinguished delegates, the sustainable use of wildlife can be consumptive or non-consumptive, and many different forms of legal trade in CITES Appendix II listed species occurs.
CITES Parties have specifically recognized the impacts that CITES controls can have on rural communities, both positive and negative, and they have also recognized the importance of engaging with such communities in implementing CITES.
Forty years of experience has shown that well regulated international trade is not easy to achieve, with good national laws, sound science and effective enforcement being critical. It is however worth the effort and the benefits of this strictly regulated trade for local and indigenous communities can be significant. Let me share just three specific examples with you that are relevant to this region:
- Trade in the fine wool of the vicuña, a wild relative of the domesticated lamas, has served both the species and local communities well. Over the past 50 years, the number of animals in the wild has gone from 6,000 to 350,000 and the activity employs 900 local people either directly or indirectly in Lucanas, one Peruvian village alone. I am reliably informed that a vicuña suit can cost you in the order of USD50,000 or more!
- Trade in the meat of the Queen conch from the Caribbean, primarily to the USA, was blighted by uncontrolled and illegal harvesting that saw a rapid decline in its numbers. Since being included under CITES Appendix II in 1992 collaborative efforts have led to the trade coming back onto a sustainable and legal path with great benefits to local fisher folk, especially in the wider Caribbean region. Parties at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES adopted a decision which directs that “Range States of Strombus gigas should collaborate in exploring ways to enhance the traceability of specimens in international trade, including, but not limited to, catch certificates, labeling systems and the application of genetic techniques” representing the first time CITES Parties will use such technologies to better regulate trade in marine species.
- The wax plant or candelilla is a succulent plant found in northern Mexico to the south western United States, which produces a wax used as a food additive, a component in lip balm and lipsticks along with many other uses. Overharvesting threatened the survival of the species. Management plans put into place since CITES listing in Appendix II in 1975 have seen the sustainable management and use of the candelilla and sustainable livelihoods for over 20,000 harvesters and their families.
Other well researched examples of species that are legally in trade under CITES (that I have no time to share with you today) include trade in alligator leather and meat, caviar, essential oils, timber of the bigleaf mahogany (swietenia macrophylla) and the Markhor hunting trophies.
We are seeing a move towards captive breeding and artificial propagation of many species, which can take pressure off wild taken specimens. It can also raise issues regarding the in situ benefits derived from such trade.
In this context, we are delighted that the IPBES Work plan includes “sustainable use of wild specimens” and we acknowledge the role played by Mexico in achieving this outcome.
The non-consumptive benefits of wildlife through tourism are also critical – with millions of tourists every year interacting with wild plants and animals – be it whale watching, snorkelling on a coral reef, or exploring the Amazon. This wildlife-based tourism generates hundreds of thousands of local jobs and is an important source of foreign exchange in many countries.
However, if the wildlife goes then so do the tourists, along with the jobs and the revenue.
We are thereby also supporting existing and future development opportunities for rural communities by combatting illegal wildlife trade and protecting the survival of the species in situ.
Distinguished delegates, although CITES dates back to 1973, it has been drawn into many contemporary sustainable development debates, such as on the livelihoods of local and indigenous peoples, the impacts of climate change, sustainable use of biodiversity principles, and national security issues to name a few.
And as CITES celebrates the 41st anniversary of its adoption with many conservation successes, it confronts the a serious spike in illegal wildlife trade, in particular, but not exclusively, in relation to the African elephant and rhino.
This criminal activity can pose a serious threat to the social and economic stability, as well as the national security of some countries. Poaching for illegal international trade in wildlife is quite literally robbing them of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it is undermining good governance and the rule of law.
We are talking about industrial scale poaching and highly organized crime – and it is the criminal syndicates and kingpins behind them that are making the high profits at the expense of local communities and national economies.
Combatting such illegal trade has great benefits for local communities, such as through protecting natural tourism assets referred to earlier and ecosystems and the vital services they provide.
Combatting the illegal wildlife trade was a major issue at CITES CoP16 where a powerful suite of decisions were adopted by consensus, and it has also been addressed at many high-level political meetings, such as the recently completed London Conference.
The response to these threats requires us to treat wildlife crime as a serious crime, to adopt similar enforcement measures to those used to combat other serious crimes, to address both demand and supply and to attract further financing.
The illegal wildlife trade in Appendix II listed species undermines the sustainability of the legal trade. We are also seeing consumers place higher demands upon producers in ensuring that their products are legally and sustainably sourced.
Under instructions of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES, we are examining ways to overcome these concerns. For example, we are working with our CITES Committees and Parties (in Southeast Asia and elsewhere), UNCTAD, ITC, major fashion houses, IUCN, and NGOs to explore how modern technology can be applied to better tag, trace and monitor python skins and products to help ensure its legality and sustainability, improve controls and facilitate legal trade.
This focus on traceability is a trend we are witnessing across many species, including with timber, non-timber forest products, and marine species, including the Queen conch as mentioned earlier.
Distinguished delegates, we face many challenges in meeting our objectives but new and exciting opportunities are emerging to help meet these challenges.
Sustainable use can be both consumptive and non-consumptive and it contributes towards the conservation of biodiversity, while also generating jobs and revenue at local and national levels.
As such, it is quite properly a part of the discourse on the development of the Sustainable Development Goals and I hope that today’s meeting helps to give this discussion further impetus.