SA to lead from the front at CITES CoP17

Monday, September 19, 2016

By Albi Modise

The eyes of the conservation world and wildlife sectors will be on Johannesburg this month when delegates from 182 countries meet for the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17).

The international wildlife trade conference is being hosted by South Africa at the Sandton Convention Centre from 24 September to 5 October 2016 to, amongst others, make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of CITES, and ensure that the international trade in listed species of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, has described CITES CoP17 as a platform where countries are expected to discuss not only the threats faced by rhino, African elephant, and African lion, iconic species on the African continent, but also matters relating to livelihoods, effective implementation of the Convention, and proposals to bring species under international trade regulation provided by CITES or change the levels of regulation applicable to listed species. 

As one of the first members of the CITES Treaty, and the third most mega-biodiverse country in the world, South Africa has taken numerous leadership roles in the conservation of biodiversity at all levels by working with different partners at national, regional and global levels.

CITES CoP17 affords South Africa the opportunity to showcase our rich biodiversity and successful conservation and sustainable use management practices, which has resulted in South Africa being one of the leading conservation countries today. In addition, South Africa will demonstrate its commitment to the sustainable utilisation of its natural resources in contributing to socio-economic development of poor and rural communities as part of the development agenda of government.

South Africa is working towards a paperless CITES CoP17. A total of 115 documents will be considered during the two week conference. Among these are 60 proposals to amend the lists of species subject to CITES trade controls. South Africa has tabled proposals to down-list the once critically endangered Cape mountain zebra from Appendix I to Appendix II, the listing of wild ginger on Appendix II and the up-listing of pangolin to Appendix I.

Of the over 35 000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, regulated by CITES, less than 1 000 are listed on Appendix I. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction and trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. More than 34 000 species are listed on Appendix II and III. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be regulated in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival. Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade.

Three working documents (draft resolutions) were tabled by South Africa for consideration by the CITES CoP17. These are:

A draft Resolution on Illegal Wildlife Trade that highlights the need for international cooperation; the sharing of best practices; the need to enhance enforcement resources; the mobilisation of funds for sustainable interventions in order to combat illegal wildlife trade in CITES listed species, while emphasising the important role played by local communities.

A draft resolution on trade in hunting trophies of Appendix II listed species that emphasise the important socio-economic impact of hunting, in addition to the contribution it makes to conservation.

A proposed amendment to the Resolution on Trade in elephant specimens to provide for a decision-making mechanism for a process to trade in ivory.

South Africa also submitted a draft decision relating to the monitoring of international trade in cycads, the most threatened taxonomic group of organisms with many species facing imminent extinction in the wild as a direct result of human activities. South Africa is one of the world centres of cycad diversity with 29 of the 38 cycad species that occur in South Africa being endemic to this country.

South Africa is also a co-proponent, with the United States, of a document relating to youth and wildlife. It aims to raise awareness about the importance of wildlife and acknowledging that the future of wildlife depends on engaging, educating, and connecting the next generation of conservation leaders with animals and plants that they are increasingly unlikely to encounter on their own. South Africa has initiated a process to establish a Youth Conservation Programme as a legacy programme associated with the hosting of CITES CoP17. The primary aim of the programme is to ensure youth involvement in conservation initiatives, creating a platform for exchange and involvement, as well as formal integration of youth into conservation programmes and the biodiversity economy.

African countries, through their participation in the conference, have the potential to influence the negotiations and ensure that priorities such as the illegal wildlife trade are addressed. South Africa has been participating in preparatory processes at a sub-regional level (Southern African Development Community) and regional level (Africa) to facilitate the adoption of common positions regarding some of the major issues to be tabled at the conference. 

South Africa’s position for the CITES CoP17 will be informed by these preparatory processes as well as its national process and will be based on key principles that include alignment with section 24 of the Constitution. 

At the Ministerial meeting scheduled to take place prior to the opening ceremony of the CITES CoP17, the role of CITES in advancing Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals will be discussed in more detail. -