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Final round-up for biodiversity for 2022 – CoP 19 CITES

I recently wrote about the outcome of CoP 15 Convention of Biodiversity which concluded on 19th December in Montreal Canada after 2 weeks of intense negotiations to adopt a new Global Framework to address the loss of biodiversity on a global scale. 

The New Statesman had written an article about CoP15 entitled “The Most Important Conference You Have Never Heard Of," and this immediately brought to mind CoP 19 of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) also known as the World Wildlife Conference which opened on 14 November in Panama and concluded on 29 November of this year.  Another hugely important meeting for global protection of biodiversity and yet highly unlikely that the majority of members of the public was aware of taking place or were even aware of what CITES is.

International trade in wildlife is big business involving trade in animals and plant species. CITES is arguably the most successful of international treaties in respect of conservation of wildlife. It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

It works by regulating international trade in wild animals and plants by listing certain species in three Appendices to the Convention. It prohibits international trade in specimens of species included in any of the Appendices without the prior grant of a CITES permit. Whilst the permit system is not perfect and could be argued that it has many flaws there is evidence to show that it has proved to be relatively effective in terms of regulating trade. The fact that CITES has so many member states demonstrates the appeal of a treaty that strictly limits international trade in species in need of genuine protection.

With reports of so many species threatened with extinction and over-exploitation with trade being one of the key drivers, CoP19 was viewed by many NGO’s as crucial to the protection of endangered species.  So what was the outcome of CoP19?

In summary there was a decent amount of good news in terms of outcomes and agreed decisions. 

For example, it was good news for certain species of shark and freshwater stingrays that are threatened by over-exploitation for their meat and fins. Member states agreed that their trade should be regulated under CITES.

An attempt by some African states to open up amongst others the commercial trade in ivory and other African elephant products was defeated so the current protection under CITES for the African elephant remains in place. However a call by eight African nations to introduce an outright ban on the export of live wild-caught African elephants to zoos was not adopted at CoP1. There was an agreed moratorium on further live exports whilst an outright ban is given further consideration.  It was not good news for Hippos with the EU and the UK voting against a proposal by ten African countries to secure a ban on all international trade in hippo products.

Pangolins the most trafficked species on the planet also benefited from a UK proposed amendments to a document aiming to close pangolin market that gained significant support among member states.

There was good news for wildlife law enforcement in West and Central Africa which remains a significant hub for wildlife trafficking where proposals were discussed on improving enforcement and transnational cooperation and funding together with a decision which had called for technical and financial support to these regions being revised to expedite the implementation of measures to combat wildlife crime in the region more effectively. Wildlife crime pays a heavy toll on animal and plant species globally. The international illegal wildlife trade (excluding timber and fisheries) is a huge international organised crime estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23billion a year and covers a broad range of species that are already on the brink of extinction.

The launch of a World Wildlife Trade Report at CoP19 showed that international trade in ‘legal’ wildlife trade is worth more than $200 billion annually to the world economy. It also highlighted how important this trade is to human well-being which should encourage all stakeholders to invest in wildlife conservation.

In conclusion, over 365 decisions were agreed which the current Secretary General, Ivonne Higuero, said was “evidence that CITES parties agree that they need to enforce measures that allow the international trade to continue but only in ways that are sustainable and legal to safeguard its benefits and existence for future generations.”

So as we draw an end to 2022 one would hope that with a new Global Framework adopted at Montreal at the CoP15 Convention on Biodiversity, and a positive outcome for protection of biodiversity through CoP19 CITES, we move forward with a positive outlook for the future of our biodiversity as we go into 2023.