74th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in full swing
The Standing Committee (SC) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is currently gathering for its 74th meeting (‘SC74) in Lyon, France. The committee paves the way for the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP), which will be held in Panama City in November 2022. It oversees the budget provided to the Secretariat, carries out tasks provided to it by the COP and drafts resolutions for consideration at the COP.
Contrary to the COP, each major geographical region of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, Oceania) is represented by a certain number of states, depending on the population of the respective region, while the convention’s depository government (Switzerland) and the host of the next COP (Panama) are present. Europe, for instance, is represented by Russia, Belgium, Israel and Poland. Russia, however, is absent from the meeting, being replaced by Georgia.
Apart from members of the Standing Committee, which are being reconsidered at each COP, also states currently not being member of the SC are present, for instance Japan. Additionally, a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and small number of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and UN specialised agencies are attending the meeting.
All in all, the agenda comprises 89 items. These range from rather uncontroversial issues, such as the admission of observers or the adoption of the agenda. Other issues under discussions refer to implementation policies of the convention, compliance matters or illegal trade in different species and specimens. Especially agenda items 20 (Engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities) and 21 (Livelihoods) are of relevance to Sellheim Environmental since these touch upon the interface between conservation and livelihoods of local populations. Whether or not an intervention as part of the delegation of IWMC-World Conservation Trust will be possible cannot be said at this point.
Thus far, some controversial topics have been discussed. For instance, under agenda item 50, the term ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ are discussed. The context refers to a sale of live elephants by Namibia to some non-range states of African elephants (Loxodanta africana). Even though African elephants are generally listed on Appendix I of the convention – meaning an extremely limited trade -, the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are listed on Appendix II. This means that controlled and strictly regulated trade is possible.
An annotation to the Appendix II-listing outlines, however, that merely certain specimens are possible to trade in, excluding trade in live elephants, unless they contribute to in situ conservation. The question that was thus discussed was: was the trade of live elephants to non-range states (ex situ) permitted under the annotation to Appendix II or could it even be justified under Appendix I? After long discussions it was concluded that while this constitutes somewhat of a grey area, Namibia did not act in contravention to its commitments. The final decision on this issue will be made by the COP.
The meeting started with some opening statements from the host government France, the CITES Secretary General and the Chair of the SC. What sprung to mind right away was the fact that the absence of the Russian Federation, in all likelihood linked to the war in Ukraine, was not mentioned at all. Moreover, contrary to other international fora, such as the Arctic Council, the war in Ukraine did not find any recognition – neither by parties nor observers.
A second observation is that even though the corona pandemic is still ongoing, representatives are sitting very close to each other. Even though merely one representative of observers is permitted in the plenary room (the others sit at the side and in a listening room), the space between the seats is extremely tight. Although a proof of vaccination has to be shown every morning when entering the venue and face masks are compulsory throughout the entire duration of the meeting, the close proximity of the delegates appears rather irresponsible. This is also because of the venue where the meeting is taking place: the horse racing track of Lyon, which does not seem to be a conference venue for a larger group of people.
Similar to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), CITES meetings have been marked by conflicting interests and diverging viewpoints. Especially discussions surrounding trade (or suspension thereof) in charismatic species such as whales or elephants have driven a wedge between the parties. The large numbers of NGOs, the majority of which fosters the idea of full protection and hence Appendix I-listing of species, stands representative for this trend. Although the tone is respectful, the interventions of the members of the SC and the NGO observers show how irreconcilable the interests and preferences really are.
The meeting will go on until Friday, 11 March. At the time of writing (evening of Wednesday, 9 March), the meeting lags far behind the set agenda and it remains to be seen whether all issues on the agenda can be discussed.