From the 14th-25th November around 2000 researchers, advocates, policy experts, traders and official representatives from up to 184 countries are attending a critical gathering in Panama – the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Otherwise known as CITES COP19.
While it’s not as well-known as the UN Climate CoP (noting that COP27 has been front and centre of the world’s press over the last two weeks), it is no less important. The wildlife trade is an increasing stressor on biodiversity, and we are currently in a crisis whereby one million species are at risk of extinction.
Why does this matter?
Put simply, biodiversity is critical to the functioning of the natural ecosystems and natural resources on which we all depend. It is crucial to our survival.
So, what is CITES?
CITES is the only global instrument that regulates the international trade in ‘selected’ i.e. ‘listed’ threatened plants and animals, to ensure the trade is not detrimental to their survival.
These ‘listed’ species are currently documented in three appendices to the Convention. The specific appendix determines the level of regulation. As such, the survival of Appendix I species is of most concern and the most stringently regulated, whereas Appendix III species are the least stringently regulated.
More than 38,700 species of animals and plants are currently listed under CITES, with 184 Parties (States) thus agreeing to monitor and manage their international trade. The majority are plants, more specifically orchids. In contrast, there are 5,950 species of animals whose trade in controlled by the Convention.
The CITES COP is the tri-annual meeting of the parties to the Convention whereby its Member States select which plants and animals are to be listed. Indeed, some may be removed from the appendices, if the threats from the trade are deemed to have reduced to a level where regulation is no longer necessary.
Why Hong Kong matters?
A global leader in imports
Although Hong Kong is a city of just 7.3 million people, it is the leading global importer of many CITES-regulated species. For over a decade now, Hong Kong has dominated global imports in all manner of plants, live animals and animal products (both marine and terrestrial). A quick look at the CITES trade database can glean some alarming import data illustrating Hong Kongs’ global rankings. To name a few these include:
- in Saiga horns and saiga horn-based medicines
- in American ginseng
- in crocodilian meat
- in shark fin
- in python meat
- in Red sandalwood logs
- in dried seahorses
- in live reptiles
- in live Arapaima (fish)
- in Nicaraguan rosewood
- to USA in sea cucumbers
- to USA in chameleons
- to USA in Green iguanas
Hong Kong’s large-scale imports of exotic animals for the pet trade was the subject of our research “Wild, Threatened, Farmed: Hong Kong’s invisible pets”. The findings highlighted the alarming scale of the local trade and the relatively lax regulation around it – leading to biodiversity, animals and public health concerns.
As a result, Hong Kong really does matter in a global context.
What will happen at COP19?
There are 52 proposals being discussed, deciding the fate of nearly 600 species. These include sharks and rays, more than 200 tree species, reptiles such as crocodiles, caiman and lizards, iconic species of rhino, elephant and hippos, turtles, frogs, fish and many more.
Given Hong Kong’s leading role in the shark fin trade (around 50% of global imports), the three proposals for listing 98 shark species is of particular importance and potentially a game changer for shark conservation (spoiler alert – two proposals encompassing 61 species, have already been voted on favourably at the time of writing).
CITES COP19 is a critical opportunity to focus the world’s attention on biodiversity and increase safeguards for many threatened species. CITES is the best we have, but unfortunately, it’s not enough! Listing can be a contentious and many proposals will not be successful. When consensus can’t be achieved the countries vote – anonymously.
With the fates of hundreds of species in the balance, we hope to see member states stepping up to ensure that human demand does not drive these plants and animals towards the brink of extinction. Continued biodiversity loss is simply not an option.
ADMCF wildlife team is at Panama now (and will be hosting a side event: “The Exotic Pet trade: an Increasing Risks to Global Biodiversity”)- in part II of this blog we will let you know what happened at COP 19 and what it means for our wildlife!