Opening remarks of Executive Director of UN Environment Programme at the 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES

Updated on 18 August 2019

Eighteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties

Opening remarks of Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen

Geneva (Switzerland), 17 August 2019

Excellency Federal Counselor Alain Berset,
Chairwoman Carolina Caceres,
Chair of CITES Standing Committee,
Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero,
Ministers, Ambassadors, distinguished guests, partners, colleagues and friends.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today at this important gathering, the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES.
First, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the people of Sri Lanka and to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. We mourn the loss and will honor the victims, as we recommit to fight the scourge of terror in all its forms. We also express our deep appreciation to Sri Lanka for its enormous commitment to CITES as it prepared for hosting the 18th CoP.
On the occasion of the opening of this CoP, I also want to recall, and celebrate the life of Edna Molewa, who was the Chair of CoP17, which we held in Johannesburg. We lost Edna tragically and much too soon. Edna was a giant in the environmental world. She is deeply missed.
And I would like to express my sincere thanks to the CITES Secretariat host country, Switzerland, for the continued support as host of the Secretariat and for the extraordinary support that Switzerland has provided to ensure that in just two months, we can hold the CoP here in support of the mission and mandate of CITES.
Because by regulating trade in over 36,000 species, the Convention has been a key conservation tool for over forty years.
Since coming into force in 1975, political and financial support to CITES has varied over the years.
Today, however, CITES is strong and it has new allies.
Sustaining life on earth has taken center stage, where it belongs, helped by young activists, media, policymakers, scientists, politicians, and society at large; all of whom understand the imperative of conservation and who understand the importance of ensuring a sound regulation of trade of flora and fauna.
We have a chance to take advantage of this groundswell of support.
It may well be our last chance.
We are losing species at a rate never seen before.
The populations of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish fell 60% between 1970 and 2014.
The recent IPBES report found that we are set to lose, within this century, at least one million out of the nearly eight million species on earth unless we take action.
Habit destruction shows no sign of abating, with humanity gobbling up land for agriculture, infrastructure and urban expansion.
Unfortunately it is projected that we are not going to meet most of the Aichi Targets on reducing biodiversity loss. 
But we can change our ways.
With the public increasing awareness and involvement, we can find a workable balance between people and nature. And here CITES can become an even stronger force for good.
CITES is, after all, about balance: between the need to protect species of plants and animals from extinction and the need for nations to use these resources for trade, growth and development.
I want to be clear here. CITES works. Regulated and sustainable trade works. Sustainable use works.
I could cite many examples of successes, but let me mention just one.
Crocodiles were listed in 1975, in response to severe depletion. 
The crocodile industry is now worth over 100 million dollars a year, the illegal trade has all but vanished and crocodiles are far more abundant than they were 50 years ago.
Yes, there are disagreements on approaches under CITES, and some approaches have worked better in some places than others.
But this is normal in any collective process.
The United Nations Environment Programme remains committed to working with the CITES Secretariat and with Parties to bring more success in advancing sustainable trade in wildlife and plants.
In this spirit, I come to you with three messages to inform your deliberations.
Firstly, we need more effective multilateralism to solve the wildlife trade challenges of the 21st century.
We need a robust governance system that accommodates different views and enables conversations.
The drivers of species loss are multilateral in nature. Addressing them requires the same approach.
So how do we work better together in a multilateral system?
A starting point is to acknowledge that our tools, processes and mechanisms may need to be refreshed in an increasingly complex world.
We must deliver on a longer-term vision for CITES that reflects these new realities.
A strategic vision for the next 10 years is on the table for Parties’ consideration.  
In order to implement this vision, we need to use the best science and data to look at future scenarios and plan for them.
The ambition of this vision has to be matched by collective action.  We need all Parties to commit to this process. 
So how do we work better together and across the multilateral system?
Another key element in working better together is increasing synergies with other Multilateral Agreements (MEAs) and processes.
I am here referring yes, to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the post-2020 biodiversity framework, but I am also looking beyond. Because the very drivers of biodiversity loss and unsustainable trade that Parties will be discussing here emerge from decisions made in other corridors.
To give just two examples:
Wild animals, fish and plants support the basic needs of some of the world’s poorest people. Yet overharvesting can jeopardize wild populations and limit future trade potential. 
We all need energy and transportation to live meaningful lives. Yet, poorly planned infrastructure degrades habitats, opens them up to unsustainable exploitation and threatens wildlife and plants. 
Ministers of planning, energy, infrastructure and finance need our help to tackle these issues.
We need all Parties to commit to reach out to other ministries to bring these issues to the table.
Banks and other financial backers also need our help to make wiser decisions.
So how do we work better together in a multilateral system?
Working better together also means staying at the table within the CITES process.
I understand that some Parties may not be satisfied with how this Convention supports their own development aspirations. 
But now is not the time to let divisions overtake us. The trade in wildlife and plants is too interconnected for nations to tackle alone.
We must listen to the arguments, weigh the evidence and do what is right.
Just as we must ensure that pressures on species that fall outside the scope of CITES are treated within the MEAs, where such matters are best handled, so that we do not create confusion among the MEA instruments that Member States have created. Rather, we should ensure that each instrument plays its rightful role in the broader orchestra, so that each instrument is used to it’s fullest extent with respect to mandate, mission and vision.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As important as multilateralism is, we must remember it is not the sole preserve of governments. And this is my second message.
We must widen our approaches to include people who manage and live with wildlife.
Part of this lies in enforcement, and there have been many positive collaborative efforts on enforcement amongst Parties. 
The recent cooperation of 109 countries under Operation Thunderball coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization was a huge success, leading to nearly 600 arrests and the seizure of thousands of protected animals, plants, and wildlife products.
But the number of species being considered at this CoP tells us we must work smarter and more collaboratively.
Parties need to continue supporting the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime to ensure coordinated global backing for the law enforcement community. 
We must also be relentless in our efforts to root out all forms of corruption.
However, enforcement alone will not make the illegal trade go away.
Poverty and a lack of opportunity are also factors that drive some people into crime.
To combat these drivers, we need a sustainable wildlife economy that benefits people and nature.
Parties should therefore balance investment in enforcement with social and economic incentives to address the needs of the people living closest to wildlife. 
Communities must be treated as equal partners, with their own conservation and development aspirations valued alongside global desires to conserve species.
Work on livelihoods has advanced since the last CoP. However, we need to fully integrate these issues into effective decision-making.
Specific processes for integrating community and livelihood issues into national level CITES decision-making must be expanded and shared.
I encourage parties to enhance and support this work, as proposed by the Secretariat and many Parties.
My last message to you is that we must keep our anchor in science. After all, CITES is a science-based decision-making body.
Only by truly understanding species and the role they play in ecosystems can we make wise decisions.
We need only to look at what is happening with climate change, the direct result of building our economies on fossil fuels, to see the risk inherent in decision-making.
Science helps to mitigate risks and, if we listen to it, brings us back on track should we err.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The future of biodiversity is at stake, but as I said earlier, we have a unique opportunity to change course.
2020 will be the super year for environmental decision-making. The Paris Agreement is set to go in to effect. The post-2020 biodiversity framework is to be agreed. The Oceans Conference will take place. And the IUCN World Conservation Congress will be held.
Here at CITES CoP18, we are setting the stage and charting the path.
We need to ensure the decisions we make at this CoP set the right tone.
We must ensure they inform and drive the most robust and ambitious decisions to save biodiversity on our planet.
Thank you very much and I wish you much success for the critical work in the coming days.