CITES, South Africa, and psy­che­delic rock

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

Mr Vella is the Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment, Mar­itime Af­fairs and Fish­eries

The il­le­gal trade is worth be­tween €8 and €20 bil­lion ev­ery year. Traf­fick­ing is not a vic­tim­less crime: in the de­vel­op­ing world, peo­ple lose their liveli­hoods – and some­times their lives – be­cause of these prac­tices, which are in­creas­ingly con­trolled by or­gan­ised crime.

CITES helps the world beat these crim­i­nals. The par­ties only meet in full ev­ery three years, so each meet­ing is a sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­nity. At­ten­tion this year will fo­cus on ivory, and ef­forts to halt the sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in poach­ing. Cur­rent lev­els are ex­tremely high, with some 30,000 ele­phants killed ev­ery year and over 6000 rhi­nos killed since 2008. At the Con­ven­tion, the EU will be lead­ing ef­forts to com­bat the prob­lem, en­cour­ag­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to strengthen its ap­proach.

Trad­ing in ivory is banned, and the EU is fully be­hind this ban. We also op­pose those who are ask­ing for a limited trade to re­sume. I’ll be con­cen­trat­ing in­stead on ac­tions that have a di­rect im­pact: en­forc­ing the rules more ef­fec­tively, ad­dress­ing cor­rup­tion, sup­port­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, and re­duc­ing the de­mand for il­le­gal wildlife prod­ucts.

I’ll be ar­gu­ing in par­tic­u­lar for strength­ened “Na­tional Ivory Ac­tion Plans”. These tools are es­sen­tial in coun­tries im­pacted by ele­phant poach­ing and ivory traf­fick­ing, and they have a proven track record that shows they can sub­stan­tially re­duce the scale of the prob­lem. Thai­land is a re­cent ex­am­ple.

But ivory is only one of the im­por­tant is­sues. We’ll also be im­prov­ing the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for hunt­ing tro­phies, and en­sur­ing that such trade can only hap­pen when it’s both legal and sus­tain­able.

Whether we like it or not, bio­di­ver­sity of all types can play a role in creat­ing valu­able in­come and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity for the coun­try of ori­gin. It’s naive to pre­tend oth­er­wise, and these eco­nomic fac­tors have to be in­cluded if our ef­forts to pro­tect species are to be ef­fec­tive.

CITES grows with ev­ery Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties, and this meet­ing will see EU sup­port for bet­ter pro­tec­tion for a num­ber of species. More than 35 000 plants and an­i­mals are cov­ered by the agree­ment, and the list is grow­ing all the time. So it’s a tool that favours the de­vel­op­ment of up-and-com­ing na­tions, while en­sur­ing that trade re­mains legal and sus­tain­able ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing in the EU.

The EU will be sup­port­ing greater pro­tec­tion for silky and thresher sharks, devil rays, rose­wood tim­ber, and ex­otic rep­tiles. Rose­wood is a ver­sa­tile hard­wood found all around the world, used in anything from floor­ing to mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. But stocks are limited and the re­cent past has seen a boom in the il­le­gal trade in many trop­i­cal re­gions. The cur­rent in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion regime is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate, so we’ll be ar­gu­ing for CITES pro­tec­tion for a far fuller range of species. The ben­e­fits for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, and for the tim­ber trade, should be sub­stan­tial.

In to­tal we’ll be press­ing for more than 20 amend­ments to CITES leg­is­la­tion, with mea­sures ad­dress­ing rhinoceroses and tigers, great apes, pan­golins, and the ex­ot­i­cally named Psy­che­delic Rock Gecko, a re­cently dis­cov­ered species from South Viet­nam. Un­for­tu­nately, that ter­rific name – the re­sult of its highly un­usual colour­ing – has made it a tar­get for il­le­gal col­lect­ing by un­scrupu­lous pet traders. CITES list­ing would help end that.

In­sti­tu­tion­ally, this par­tic­u­lar meet­ing is a new de­par­ture for the EU. We are at­tend­ing as a full party, rather than as an ob­server. It means a deeper in­volve­ment, more re­spon­si­bil­ity and greater ac­count­abil­ity when it comes to wildlife trade and con­ser­va­tion. It also en­sures that we re­main a ma­jor vot­ing block, with 28 voices speak­ing as one.

CITES is vi­tal, but it needs to be one weapon in a larger ar­moury. Solv­ing the world’s bio­di­ver­sity cri­sis means act­ing on nu­mer­ous threats, from the de­struc­tion of habi­tats, poor spa­tial plan­ning, the pol­lu­tion of rivers and oceans, to cli­mate change, cor­rup­tion, and bad gover­nance.

That was the think­ing be­hind the EU Wildlife Ac­tion Plan adopted ear­lier this year. It al­lows us to con­cen­trate our ef­forts ef­fec­tively on three broad ar­eas: pre­ven­tion, part­ner­ships and bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion. For the next five years, the Plan will guide the EU and its mem­ber states to­wards bet­ter all-round pro­tec­tion for en­dan­gered species. It draws on sup­port from the field of en­vi­ron­ment, but it also brings in ar­eas like the justice sys­tem, de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion, diplo­macy, and our mar­itime poli­cies.

A co­or­di­nated ap­proach to tackle a com­plex nexus of prob­lems; rather like CITES, in fact.

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