Opening Statement of the Executive Director of UNEP - CoP16

at the Sixteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the 
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Bangkok, Thailand, 3 March 2013

Bangkok, 3 March 2013 - Your Excellency, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, Chairman of the CITES Standing Committee, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here in Thailand on the occasion of the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Your Excellency, the Government and the people of Thailand deserve our deep thanks for the warm welcome and generous hospitality afforded to delegates meeting here in your beautiful city of Bangkok.

Thailand is among several pioneering economies who are glimpsing and implementing pathways towards a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

It is expressed through the philosophy of the Sufficiency Economy outlined by His Majesty King Bhumibolways in advance of the Rio+20 Summit held last June.

In mentioning Rio+20, may I also thank Your Excellency for the support Thailand gave towards the strengthening of UNEP which hosts the CITES secretariat.

This strengthening and upgrading of UNEP was given expression at our Governing Council two weeks ago where for the first time the world’s environment ministers attended under universal membership of 193 member states of the UN.

And where among many solid outcomes, governments called for the transformation of the UNEP Governing Council into a UN Environment Assembly—a change in terminology but one with resonance in respect to ministers responsible for the environment’s aspirations to implement fresh and forward-looking, transformational policies and programmes in service of the planet and its people.

Let me also take the opportunity to congratulate the CITES Secretary General Mr. John Scanlon and other new staff who have taken up appointments at the treaty since the fifteenth Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar.

They have an important role to play as the human capital of one of the key biodiversity conventions in its own right and mandate.

But also in ensuring that CITES assists other treaties to realize theirs—not least the Convention on Biological Diversity-  and the shared Biodiversity Strategic Plan and Aichi Targets.

 Your Excellency, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

CITES has a pivotal role to play in assisting nations towards sustainable development including the inclusive Green Economy pathway.

For 40 years CITES  has been the instrument chosen by member states to regulate the international trade in endangered species and in doing so assist countries rich in biodiversity to conserve and sustainably utilize their wildlife— an important part of their nature-based assets.

A point fully recognized by Heads of State and governments in Rio+20’s outcome document—the Future We Want.

Rio+20 also underlined the impacts of illegal trade including the social, economic and environmental impacts.

A point that is of particular relevance to COP-16 in a world of increasing demand for natural resources and on a planet where unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are shrinking, rather than husbanding, that crucial resource base.

CITES has achieved a great deal in its four decades of existence—but its work, in common with all multilateral environmental agreements and in common with the environmental agenda generally, is not over by a long stretch.

Environmental crime is hitting the headlines yet again in 2013 including in respect to elephants and rhino in Africa triggering major concerns within range states and civil society across the globe.

During the UNEP Governing Council, UNEP issued its annual Year Book requested by governments.

The Year Book spotlights emerging issues requiring the attention of governments.

The emerging—or should one say re-emerging--poaching of elephants and rhino- was a key topic.

The report noted that when populations of elephants decline by over six per cent annually, that population is vulnerable to collapse—in many parts of Africa right now the killing of elephants for ivory is running at 11 or 12 per cent of those populations.

Illegal killing of large numbers of elephants is increasingly involving organized criminal groups and sometimes well-armed militias.

For example, up to 450 elephants were killed in Cameroon in early 2012. Poached ivory is believed to be exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region.

The UNEP Year Book, supported by data from CITES and its Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants which is hosted by UNEP in Nairobi, indicates that the number of elephants that were killed in 2012, ran, as in 2011, into the tens of thousands.

Meanwhile a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone last year.

The illegal trade in Great Apes is another re-emerging area of concern.

It will be highlighted at this meeting in a new report compiled by UNEP-GRID Arendal; CITES and the UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Programme (GRASP).

In addition a recent report by UNEP and Interpol estimated that between 50 to 90 per cent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia is being carried out by organized crime.

This threatens not only attempts to eradicate poverty and deforestation but also efforts to combat climate change under the UN Framework Convention on Combating Climate Change and initiatives such as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation (REDD or REDD+).

The illegal logging is worth well over $30 billion annually to the criminals, whereas many of the poor people enlisted into these illegal activities get a pittance in return.

The report describes 30 ingenious ways of procuring and laundering illegal timber—underlining the urgency of keeping one step ahead of the criminals.

Primary methods include falsification of logging permits, bribes to obtain permits (up to US$50,000 for a single permit in some countries), logging beyond concessions and hacking government websites to obtain or change electronic permits.

One new way to launder millions of cubic metres of wood is to mix it with legally cut timber and process it and launder it through saw, paper, pulp and board mills. Another big tactic involves selling timber and wood originating from wild forests as plantation timber.

Your Excellency, delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It will be crucial to assist developing countries with capacity building but is equally crucial that the illegal networks are tackled and perhaps more importantly, the consumer demand is addressed.

In partnership with CITES, UNEP is working to sensitize potential consumers in Asia in respect to ivory and rhino horn—surveys show that many people in Asia have no idea that these wildlife products may be from illegal sources.

I am delighted to say that during the UNEP Governing Council the city of Shanghai—the most populous city in the world—signed an agreement with us to build public awareness on the illegal wildlife trade.

UNEP has enlisted our Goodwill Ambassador—the world famous Chinese actress Li Bingbing—to publicize the issue via television announcements.

Public awareness across consumer countries has a role to play but so does international collaboration including between national customs and police forces.

Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) is a recent consortium of forests and climate initiatives to combat illegal logging and organized forest crime.

It is led by the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme and the UNEP’s centre in Norway (UNEP GRID Arendal), with financial support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

CITES has also made important progress with partners including the World Customs Organization and customs agencies and the World Bank.

CITES will consider what additional measures can be taken to combat illegal wildlife trade with your deliberations informed by the newly established International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime. 

Your Excellency, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Among the many issues before you are also the 70 listing proposals—proposals based on the best available science.

Some underline the shifting patterns of trade and the evolving role of CITES as demands for natural resources intensify.

For example several countries are seeking to include commercially valuable timber species under CITES with several 100 species proposed for listing here.

CITES is playing an important role in ensuring the legal, sustainable and traceable trade in timber species, which has been significantly supported through the joint efforts with the International Tropical Timber Organization. 

In respect to marine species, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization has now clearly signalled the value of CITES as a complementary measure in their sustainable management.

Indeed the FAO expert panel is, I understand, supporting listing for sharks with an open finding for the manta ray.

Your Excellency, Honourable Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Another issue before this meeting is the funding of CITES’s work. In the course of the next two weeks you will have to debate an important decision on the budget of CITES for the next period.

The Secretariat has proposed two modest budget scenarios neither of which increases staff numbers.

Given the important role this treaty plays in assisting countries to achieve the poverty-related goals and sustainable development including a transition to an inclusive Green Economy what is on the table would seem to be the minimum required.

In addition would urge parties to the convention to look how they can further support CITES’s programmatic activities related to science, enforcement, legislation, capacity building and trade monitoring databases which are core to its delivery.

Your Excellency, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

UNEP attaches a high value to the role of CITES.

In 2010 UNEP and CITES as part of an efficiency drive agreed a revised Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – an MOU which has served to provide a solid platform for a more transparent and accountable relationship between UNEP and the Convention.

During the last two years UNEP has also been strengthening its regional focal points for the biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements.

The focal points have been undertaking various activities, in consultation or conjunction with the convention secretariats, including CITES with the aim of providing technical and advisory advice to countries on implementing the biodiversity-related MEAs in a more holistic way at the regional and national level.

As mentioned UNEP has co-hosted since 2007 the programmes adopted to Monitor the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), which together with the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) are developing capacity and generating information to understand the pressures on elephants.

Furthermore, the African Elephant Fund was established under UNEP as a multi-donor technical cooperation trust fund for the Implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan which was adopted by African elephant range States in March 2010.

The Fund was approved at the twenty-sixth session of the UNEP Governing Council in February 2011 and took effect on 1 February 2011.

UNEP through its World Conservation Monitoring Centre maintains the CITES trade database which comprises data on trade in CITES-listed species compiled from the information submitted by parties in their annual reports to CITES.

This invaluable resource provides a one-stop-shop and is available online and now contains over 12 million trade records.

Your Excellency,

In a world of seven billion people rising to over nine billion people by 2050, the imperative to invest and re-invest in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources including biodiversity has never been more critical.

The UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel estimates that by 2050 consumption of natural resources will triple under current scenarios.

CITES is among the international agreements established to ensure such scenarios remain that—scenarios rather than realities.

I am confident that with your support—which over 40 years has assisted to achieve so much on behalf of communities and countries everywhere—CITES can achieve even more in support of that common and sustainable future we all want and need.

Thank you.