Opening speech of the Chair of the CITES Standing Committee - CoP16

Bangkok, Thailand, 3 March 2013

Your Excellency the Prime Minister of Thailand
Minister for the Environment
Executive Director of UNEP 
Secretary-General of CITES
CITES Parties and representatives from IGOs and NGOs
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I was very pleased to learn that the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties would be held in Thailand. Thailand is a very active and supportive Party to CITES and it is also famed for its hospitality. Having invited us to return to the vibrant city of Bangkok for the second time in ten years proves exactly that.

As you know CITES also marks its 40th anniversary today and I congratulate Thailand for proposing to this meeting that we recognize 3 of March every year as World Wildlife Day. There is indeed reason to congratulate ourselves on the achievements since CITES’ inauguration. The regulation of international trade in wildlife is not only about conservation of species and their populations, but a cornerstone for CITES is also the obligation to ensure a sustainable offtake and that trade is carried out according to both national and international regulations. This is the foundation for sustaining many local communities, as well as generating jobs and tax revenues for Governments, without which it is hard to see how we can achieve our goals of conservation and co-existence with wildlife.

The profile of CITES has not diminished over the past 40 years, in fact it has been lifted to new heights over the past three years as is evident from the recognition of the importance of CITES by World leaders at the Rio+20 conference last June.

As the representative of the Parties to the Convention I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported CITES over the last 4 decades. Without this active involvement, CITES would simply cease to exist as a dynamic instrument. There are too many of you out there to mention all of you, but still I want to stress the importance of the civil society. Participation and involvement of non-governmental organizations, consultants and private capacities continue to be invaluable to the constantly evolving dialogue within CITES fora.

So, has CITES made a difference over the last 40 years? And what role could there be for CITES today and the coming decades? These and other questions come to mind when we celebrate this anniversary. I am afraid that we cannot be complacent as we have still huge challenges to tackle. One example is that the Convention has still a long way to go regarding Parties ability to comply, and in that sense CITES is still, in some respects at least, a youngster. Given the ongoing needs of the Convention and the many emerging challenges, especially through the recent surge in poaching and illegal trade in elephants and rhinos, it seems timely and appropriate to open up the Global Environment Facility to CITES Parties.

I am optimistic by nature and want to see opportunities and innovations in achieving the goals of CITES and other sister biodiversity Multilateral Environmental Agreements, rather than focusing on failures. Today I firmly believe that we should further explore the scope for synergies through cooperation with a multitude of different organizations and the private sector, in administration, finance and programming. Different sectors can achieve mutual goals through viewing each other in a more complementary way, as we have witnessed over the past three years through the work of our Secretariat. In other words, the potential for further synergies are there, it is just a matter of being innovative and open minded to grasp them.

The species regulated under CITES are growing and we will during this Conference of the Parties hear and learn more about the dire situation for many species of wildlife. The Standing Committee and the Parties are well aware of this and make full use of the CITES regulatory powers to improve the situation where we can. We have seen many success stories where countries have been lifted from suspension as well as examples where improved regulatory systems that ensure sustainable use have been put in place, with benefits for local communities.

We must not forget that wildlife around the globe needs international as well as national actions more than ever. If the simple basics of CITES could be fully implemented, this would be a significant leap forward. However, as I started out, nature conservation can only succeed if we involve communities that are dependent on the resources being managed in a sustainable manner. And CITES is a critical instrument to achieve this both in the terrestrial and aquatic environments.

I sincerely thank all members of the Standing Committee and the members of the various working groups for their extraordinary commitment and support and over the past three years. Their work is vital to the success of the Convention.

And I cannot let this moment pass without publicly acknowledging the extraordinary support provided to the Committee by our Secretariat. As Chair, and I am sure I speak for the entire Committee, I could not be happier with the attentiveness to our needs and the responsiveness of the Secretariat. I commend the Secretary-General for his leadership and reach out to every delegation not to further deplete the resources of our Secretariat. To do so will have very negative consequences for the work of the Standing Committee and hence for the operation of the Convention.

I know that the Standing Committee is dedicated to do whatever it can and I hereby invite you to do the same. I wish all of us a successful Conference of the Parties.

Øystein Størkersen

Chair CITES Standing Committee