Sixty-first meeting of the Standing Committee

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Geneva (Switzerland), 15-19 August 2011

Opening remarks from the Chair

Dear Dignitaries, Representatives of the Standing Committee members, Party observers, observers from IGOs and NGOs, ladies and gentlemen

Mr Øystein Størkersen, Chair of the CITES Standing Committee

Considering that my mother tongue is not English, I seek your indulgence in accepting that I risk losing some of the finer details of the English language as I translate in my own head from Norwegian. But I am sure that you or the Secretariat will correct me if this happens! And for those of you working in French or Spanish please don’t blame the interpreters!

I warmly welcome you to the 61st meeting of the CITES Standing Committee. I would like to thank the SC for their vote of confidence in electing me as your chair. I would also like to thank the outgoing chair Christian Maquieria for his good service over a number of years. For you who do not know me, my professional background is in biology and since completing my thesis I have been working for the Norwegian Government, for over 20 years now, on the national management of MEAs, with CITES being one of these. My approach is founded on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, while at the same time taking care to involve local communities, as appropriate, to help generate local interest and ownership in conservation. Securing livelihoods and working towards poverty eradication are also important elements. In my mind, we need to consider all of these elements to ensure success in our collective efforts to fully implement the Convention, noting that we must do so in a manner that is consistent with the direction that has been provided to us by the COP.

It is now about 1 ½ year since we last met. CoP15 decided on a number of issues and instructed the various committees and the Secretariat to implement these. In addition the SC shall also monitor and guide the Parties, working groups, committees and the Secretariat in between the CoPs. In an ever changing world I believe that there is a need to be proactive and innovative in our guidance. I hope that ongoing international initiatives will help us in this direction. Many of these are UN-led processes, and it is important that the CITES community engage in these if we are to be able to implement the Convention effectively. We will hear more of some of these processes during this week. 

Since we last met we have also a new Secretary General in place. I suggest that you join me in saluting the excellent work John Scanlon has done so far. I think we could not have found a better person. An example of this is in relation to the revision of the working relationship between CITES and UNEP. This task is highly sensitive and it has taken a lot of time and effort to get to where we are now. This has partly been due to the complexity of the issues involved and the need to develop a common understanding of the implications of various options. As a former staff member in UNEP-HQ in Nairobi John has contributed a lot of clear and understandable information and invaluable guidance.

The Secretariat also deserve to be saluted for their excellent work. Their workload is great, reflecting the many decisions that you the Parties have made. Even though we have a very competent staff at the moment within the Secretariat, it is necessary to monitor the capacity of Secretariat and the funding situation for the Convention itself, particularly in relation to the many decisions by the Parties and the enormous need for assistance to the Parties. Innovative ways of approaching this is high on the international agenda and through an agenda item and a side-event this week we will look more closely at how i.e. GEF could become a financial mechanism for CITES. Issues of compliance and NDFs are examples of important tasks affecting all Parties. However, the situation worldwide is desperately lacking in these respects. So the challenges are still huge. More innovative ways for moving forward must be found if we are to assist Parties as is expected. This includes more Party- to Party assistance, more cooperation with other MEAs, UN entities, IGOs, consultants, private sector and others. I am happy to say that you will later be invited to share your views on this approach, which in fact also reflects the approach of the Strategic Vision. 

To me the bottom line is should we go on with ‘business as usual’ recognizing the significant challenges that still confront the Convention or should we be more proactive in tracking down innovations and changes to enhance implementation. CITES will soon be 40 years old, but there is no rule saying that MEAs shall remain unchanged for ever. Based upon my experience working across multiple Conventions and processes, I am of the opinion that on the international scene we are seeing significant changes, and that we will see many more in the coming years. Three existing examples of significant developments are the IPBES platform, the REDD programme, and the clustering of the Secretariats for the three chemicals and wastes conventions. The debate on international environmental governance might also have positive effects on CITES but that remains to be seen and CITES needs to be alert to the ongoing debate and how it might impact us.

CITES is one of the most important nature conservation instruments in the world because of its focused and pragmatic nature and because it works in a very operational context at the country level. But its operational nature can also result in CITES not connecting to other related events and processes and slipping off the higher level political radar screen, which in turn impacts the flow of resources to the Convention.  As is evident from the agenda before you the implementation challenges are vast and now is the time to be sure CITES is on the higher-level political agenda and starts to attract the level of resources it deserves and needs.

At the same time we witness a steady decline in biodiversity, loss of natural habitats at an unaltered rate worldwide, concerns over sustainability, and increasing levels of illegal trade. There are also huge challenges in outreach and in cooperation with local communities who will in many cases be central to effective implementation on the ground. Therefore I ask you to think about how we can contribute towards halting these negative trends. Will it be by going on doing our ‘business as usual’ or will we have to continue to adapt to changes around us – just as nature itself has adapted over the years to a changing environment?

With this I am looking forward to working with you all and I encourage you to contribute to our discussions. However, as your Chair, and in line with agreed protocol, I will always give priority to the members of the SC. For the sake of time I might also need to limit the list of speakers and the time allocated to each. Given that we have such a full agenda, and a record number of registered participants, I trust that you will all respect this approach and I thank you in advance for your support.

See also:

Opening remarks from the CITES Secretary-General, Mr.John E. Scanlon.