Opening remarks by Chairman of the Standing Committee at the 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee

Opening Remarks
by Mr Øystein Størkersen, Chairman of the Standing Committee

at the Sixty-fifth meeting of the Standing Committee

Geneva (Switzerland), 7 July 2014

Excellences, members of the Standing Committee, Party Observers, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me first welcome you all to Geneva and to this 65th meeting of the Standing Committee and to thank the Swiss Government for making this venue available to us once again. Secondly, I must thank you for your vote of confidence at SC64, having re-elected Norway and, in reality, myself as your chair for the next period running up to CoP17.

As you know, our last CoP in Bangkok was extremely busy and highly successful.  There were quite literally hundreds of new species added to the Appendices and multiple resolutions and decisions adopted that have paved the way for the work of this committee.

We will indeed discuss many of these CoP issues during the course of this week and I am very anxious to ensure that we get through our busy agenda. There are many important issues to deal with, some of which are quite detailed, involving large documents – like the various elephant agenda items and the item on reporting requirementto mention just two.

As your chair I have been in close, regular contact with the Secretariat since the last CoP. Many issues are discussed with the Secretariat on an ongoing basis, including the relationship between CITES and UNEP. On the UNEP relationship I will later today give a short statement and seek your advice and support on the way forward.

Colleagues, I have the honour of working with multiple conventions and I have always been of the view that CITES is one convention that makes a real, tangible difference for our wildlife.  It is a unique Convention that gets traction at the national and site levels.

The high level of interest and attendance at our CoP’s and meetings of this SC by CITES Parties, intergovernmental entities, international and national non-governmental organizations and the private sector clearly shows the level of interest in CITES.

While our decisions are critical, it is not really in this room that the battle to combat illegal wildlife trade and efforts to ensure sustainable use is won or lost. The main effort rests in the countries of origin, in transit countries and in the destination countries, and in taking our decisions we should always be cognizant of the front lines in this collective effort: be it rangers, customs officials, the judiciary, field based scientists and so on.

It should not come as a surprise that we need more than ever to think holistically if we are to solve the issues that we care for, especially at the country level. And alliances to achieve synergies are key words here. Without it we cannot hope to fulfil our agenda.

Therefore, I am extremely proud that we have such a dedicated Secretariat and John Scanlon at the forefront as our Secretary General.  It is simply remarkable what John and his able team have achieved over the last triennium.

Please do study the CITES webpages and you will be overwhelmed by the activities that are underway and the strong alliances that have been forged in advancing our agreed agenda.

Most recently John represented the interests of CITES at the UN Environmental Assembly, which included providing a summary of recent events and initiatives by so many people and institutions to combat illegal wildlife trade, which is really quite extraordinary.  I would like to take this opportunity to also commend our Secretariat General, for strongly representing the interests of CITES at various international meetings. 

The papers before you serve to show how the Secretariat has been working to build alliances over the past four years to assist CITES Parties in implementing their agreed commitments, which is most apparent through the Secretariat’s work with ICCWC on enforcement, FAO on sharks and rays, ITTO on timber and UNESCO on World Heritage sites. 

We must also not overlook the work the CITES Secretariat has done over the past three years to open up the GEF to CITES priorities, which was for the first time ever achieved through the GEF 6 programme adopted earlier this year. This is a major achievement as is the generation of many additional sources of funding to help implement CITES.

I hope you share my opinion that over the past four years we have embarked on a new era, where collaboration and active engagement of many organizations and individuals to assist Parties with implementing CITES decisions and resolutions is entrenched on our agenda and is carrying us forward.

But colleagues, this year and the next will see some major changes at the Secretariat. Five truly outstanding and professional staff members will have to leave due to UN regulations as they have reached their retirement age. I am hopeful that we shall see a smooth transition, but we must recognize that this poses a major stress on the Secretariat.

It has been said many times before, but I dare to reiterate that we have a Secretariat with a huge number of very complex tasks, coupled with additional pressures that placed upon staff by many actively engaged and passionate stakeholders. We have loaded the Secretariat with many additional responsibilities at the last CoP on enforcement, sharks and timber to name a few but with no new resources.  

We are now in a situation where we cannot increase the workload of the Secretariat with no increase in its resources and at the same time expect to get every document as early as we would like.  This Secretariat is working beyond capacity and there is a limit to how many requests from Parties that can be handled by a team of this size.  All the documents that are available to us today and being of such a high quality is therefore remarkable. 

It is my suggestion that we find some time to discuss how we can assist and alleviate the pressure on our Secretariat.  In my mind, our healthy reserves gives us some leeway to suggest how we can, for instance, strengthen the capacities of the Secretariat in periods of peak workload, such as in preparation for SCs and CoPs.

At the same time, I would express my deep gratitude towards all Parties and others that have made their contributions and supplied extra budgetary funds and support to our Secretariat. This has enabled us to progress many of the decisions from the CoP.

In April and May, we saw the conclusion of two very successful meetings of the AC and PC in Mexico. Let me first thank the host country for its warm and generous hospitality and for the exceptional organization of those meetings.

It is also appropriate to thank all of those people who participated as experts. Much of the benefits of their advice and good work we will be presented with during this week.

I am also very grateful to all of you who voluntarily participate in the many working groups under either the AC or PC and of course under the SC.  When we consider the members of our various committees, all of those who volunteer their support to our work, together with the support of our Secretariat, we are a great team!  It is just like cogs in a fine traditional Swiss watch, we all depend on each other to get the right result.

Over the coming week, I will, as always, conduct our business giving first priority to the members of the Standing Committee, as is expected under our Rules of Procedure.  However, as you know, I am extremely interested in the active involvement by Observer Parties, IGO’s and NGO’s.  

Having seen the length of our Agenda, I am sure you all realize that we are probably going to be short of time, and therefore there is a need to rationalize the time spent on different agenda items and how many representatives that can take the floor on any one item.

I therefore ask you to kindly respect my request for time limits to interventions and other requests made during the meeting and ask that you forgive me for not always being able to give everyone the floor but time constraints will simply make this impossible.  In this context, we are unlikely to take any coffee breaks, so please arrange for this your selves.

Dear colleagues, I conclude this brief welcome speech by thanking you for your strong support for CITES and by encouraging you to participate in this week’s discussions in a spirit of collaboration and with a willingness to listen to, and respect, alternative viewpoints.   

Now I will invite our Secretary General John Scanlon to take the floor for his opening remarks.