The World of International Organizations Explained

CITES tightens global wildlife trade rules

Giraffes in the savanna of southern Africa (ARÊTE/Andréas L.P. Astier)

GENEVA — Delegates to a 183-nation treaty for protecting endangered plants and animals ended a major summit on Wednesday after revising international trade rules for dozens of species ranging from African giraffes and elephants to mako sharks and Tokay geckos.

At the 12-day summit held just once every three years, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, considered proposals to change the level of protections required for species of wild animals and plants that are traded internationally.

CITES, run by a secretariat in Geneva, sets the rules for international trade in wild fauna and flora. It is a tool to ensure sustainability and to respond to losses in biodiversity by preventing and reversing declines in wildlife populations.

“Humanity needs to respond to the growing extinction crisis by transforming the way we manage the world’s wild animals and plants. Business as usual is no longer an option,” said CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

The CITES summit revised the trade rules for commercially valuable wildlife species, including trees and fish and exotic pets, that are threatened by unsustainable trade linked to over-harvesting, overfishing or overhunting.

It tightened trade in 18 more shark species and considered ways of more stringently protecting eels, sea cucumbers, queen conch, marine turtles, precious corals, sturgeons and seahorses. Governments also agreed to examine trade in live ornamental marine fish.

A global meeting of networks against illegal wildlife trafficking was held on the sidelines. Among those taking part in the summit were officials from the CITES secretariat, Interpol, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, World Bank and World Customs Organization under the auspices of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime.

Delegates agreed to clamp down on trade of all Latin American species of cedar and of Malawi’s national tree, the rare Mulanje cedar, and the slow-growing mukula tree, which is a type of rosewood, from southern and eastern Africa.

Many of the proposals were meant to ensure sustainability of at-risk species. Others recommended banning all commercial trade in species that could go extinct. But some made the case that a species had stabilized or rebounded enough to be traded in a controlled manner.

“CITES conserves our natural world by ensuring that international trade in wild plants and animals is legal, sustainable and traceable,” Higuero said in a statement.

Delegates also established a task force on to collaboratively improve enforcement and crack down on illegal trade in tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and leopards.

Massive species losses and extinctions

Switzerland’s minister of home affairs, Alain Berset, delivered a welcoming address on behalf of the host nation in which he acknowledged that sustainable wildlife management “requires taking into account the interests and the needs of the countries where these species live.”

In May, scientists reported that human actions are causing Earth’s natural life support systems to reach a breaking point, threatening 1 million plant and animal species with extinction in a challenge as colossal as the climate crisis.

Devastating human negligence has caused a dire nature emergency for plants and animals large and small, the 132-nation IPBES organization reported based on the work of 145 wildlife experts from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors.

It is the worst time for nature in human history, the report said, with more than a half million species on land threatened by extinction due to “insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and marine life in similar shape.

Accelerating species losses undermine humanity’s perch on the planet because all life depends on rich species diversity in healthy habitats to provide nourishment, pollination, clean water, air and land, said the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES.

A major U.N. report released at a meeting in Nairobi in March found Earth’s condition so degraded and “dire” that many people’s lives will worsen unless “unprecedented action” is taken to improve things.

In its sixth Global Environment Outlook report, Nairobi-based U.N. Environment cautioned that millions of premature deaths could occur by the mid-21st century unless cities and regions of Africa, Asia and the Middle East drastically improve their environment protections.

The report was released on the sidelines of this year’s U.N. Environment Assembly. The first such report was released in 1997.

A major cause of death by 2050 will likely be anti-microbial resistance from pollutants in freshwater systems, the report warned, while endocrine disruptors will likely have major effects on children’s neurological development and on female and male fertility.

Array of species to be considered

The new wildlife trade rules considered at CITES covered mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, trees and other plants. Some 20 proposals dealt with the exotic pet trade in amphibians and reptiles.

The African giraffe, American crocodile, southern white rhinos and several sharks and rays captured much of the debate, but African elephants were of special concerns with some countries urging stiffer protections for all African elephants. Other countries, particularly in southern parts of the continent that have larger populations, wanted permission to resume selling ivory.

By regulating trade in more than 36,000 species, CITES has been a key conservation tool for more than 40 years, U.N. Environment’s Executive Director Inger Andersen said in an opening address to the summit known as a Conference of Parties. The summit was previously scheduled for May and June in Sri Lanka, but due to a series of terror attacks there it was moved to Geneva.

“Since coming into force in 1975, political and financial support to CITES has varied over the years. Today, however, CITES is strong and it has new allies,” said Andersen.

“Sustaining life on earth has taken center stage, where it belongs, helped by young activists, media, policymakers, scientists, politicians, and society at large; all of whom understand the imperative of conservation and who understand the importance of ensuring a sound regulation of trade of flora and fauna,” she said. “We have a chance to take advantage of this groundswell of support. It may well be our last chance.”

The world of international organizations explained.

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