CITES Secretary-General's opening remarks at the Rural Communities Working Group meeting, Nairobi, Kenya

CITES and Rural Communities Working Group meeting

Opening remarks by Mr. John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General

26 February, Geneva/Nairobi, 2018

Dear colleagues from CITES Parties and rural community representatives

Good morning to you all! Let me start by expressing our deep gratitude to Namibia for leading the organization of this very important meeting of the Working Group on CITES and Rural Communities and to extend my particular thanks to our Working Group Chair, Louisa Mupetami.

Thank you also to all of the Parties present and all of the rural committee representatives for making your way to Gigiri, as well as to our good colleagues at the UN Environment Programme for their financial and other support. I very much regret that I am unable to be back in Kenya with you today due to other commitments – but I am delighted that the CITES Secretariat is well represented by David Morgan, as well as Thea Carroll who was recently announced as our new CITES MIKE Coordinator.

While illegal trade decimates wildlife populations, deprives local people from their livelihoods, and in some cases impacts national economies and security, the Parties to CITES have also long recognized that well-regulated legal trade can benefit both rural communities and species. Enhancing the livelihoods and engagement of rural communities through conservation now forms an essential part of CITES three pronged approach to tackling illicit wildlife trafficking.

The landmark UN General Assembly resolution on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife adopted in 2015, and reaffirmed in September last year, recognizes the fundamental legal framework provided by CITES in regulating international trade in wildlife and in combating illicit trafficking of wildlife. It is important to note that the Resolution goes on to stress that CITES should contribute to tangible benefits for local people, which reflects the language used in the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference The Future We Want – and Goal 15 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals says it aims to “enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species, including by increasing the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities.”

Legal and sustainable trade in wildlife is taking place, and it takes many forms, with over one million trade transactions recorded each year under CITES. The protection of wildlife from poaching and smuggling can also secure the wildlife assets that form the basis of nature based tourism experiences, which, when done properly can generate significant local jobs and income.

Case studies profiled in the CITES and livelihoods programme demonstrate many examples of a successful nexus between rural communities, livelihoods, the sustainable use of wildlife – both consumptive and non-consumptive, and wildlife conservation. Where rural communities gain benefits from wildlife, it can offer a long term self-supporting solution for improving livelihoods, lifting people out of poverty, and achieving conservation benefits, including through reducing illegal wildlife trade.

CITES is a wonderful and unique global tool to enhance how we engage with, and empower, rural communities in wildlife conservation and sustainable use. However, there is also a sense that the voices of rural communities may not be well enough represented in CITES processes and this Working Group has been mandated by both CoP17 and Standing Committee 69 with considering how to effectively engage rural communities in CITES processes.

We are aware of the different approaches and perspectives of various organizations in improving livelihoods and engaging rural communities in wildlife conservation. The CoP and Standing Committee deliberately empowered Parties and the representatives of rural communities alone, and not the wider constituency of CITES, to first consider the issue and to present its findings to the Standing Committee later this year. The Committee will consider your findings and then make its own recommendations to CoP18 in 2019, where all 183 CITES Parties and the wider CITES community will participate.  

As you know, a proposal was submitted by four Parties to CoP17 that proposed the establishment of a rural community committee, which led to the adoption of the CoP17 decision to establish this process. You are, however, mandated to consider all possible options on how to more effectively engage with rural communities in CITES processes. This could include considering what was presented to CoP17, a stand-alone resolution offering further guidance to Parties, making changes to specific resolutions on how to engage rural communities, or many other measures. Colleagues, you have the opportunity over the next few days to be very creative in your thinking.

I have already referred to outcomes of various UN processes, and you can also reference the work done by sister conventions such as the CBD in your deliberations. However, perhaps what is most important is for you to refer to CITES decisions and resolutions and documents.

While it does not always attract the headlines, we have over the past eight years placed great emphasis on livelihoods issues and on how to better engage with rural communities. This has included holding dedicated workshops on livelihoods in Colombia, Peru and South Africa, with another planned for China in 2018. Our Livelihoods working group was very active and their good work led to the first ever CITES Resolution dedicated to Livelihoods being adopted in 2013 at CoP16, which was further enhanced at CoP17 in 2016 to include reference to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

This first ever CITES Resolution on Livelihoods includes good guidance on engaging with rural communities. We have also released a CITES and Livelihoods Handbook, factsheets, tools and guidelines, and have profiled successful case studies, such as with trade in the fine fiber of the vicuna of Latin America, the meat of the queen conch of the Caribbean, the bark of the African Cherry of Africa, the bulbs of the snow drop of the Caucasus region, and the skin of the crocodiles of the Americas. I encourage you to draw on this vast body of work in your deliberations, as well as the work we are doing with FAO with local fisher folk, and much more, and David and Thea can assist you in any way that is needed.

Finally, let me close by sincerely thanking you all once again for coming to this very important meeting and to Namibia for taking on the role of Chair. 

I wish you every success with your extremely important work and look forward to learning of the outcomes.

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