CITES, South Africa, and psychedelic rock
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.