Opening Statement by John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES

Bangkok, Thailand, 3 March 2013

Your Excellency Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra
Chair of the CITES Standing Committee, Øystein Størkersen
Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner
Distinguished delegates

Sawasdee krup.  Welcome.

It is a great pleasure to be here in the beautiful and vibrant City of Bangkok and we express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Thailand and its people for the extraordinary generosity in hosting this critical meeting. 

Prime Minister, it has been a real joy to work with your ever courteous and highly professional staff both here and in Geneva as we have prepared for this event.

As we start, please allow me to extend a very warm welcome to three new Parties to CITES, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of the Maldives and the Lebanese Republic, each of which we are delighted to say is represented here today.  This brings the total number of CITES Parties to 178.

Over the past three years we have witnessed a significant renewal in the level of interest in CITES.

Previous speakers have referenced the ground-breaking recognition by world leaders in Rio de Janeiro last year of the important role of CITES as an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development,  which serves to illustrate the ongoing relevance of CITES as it reaches its 40th year.

CITES connects international commitments with national action. It does not shy away from a vote and it monitors and takes measures to ensure compliance. 

The decisions you take here in Bangkok over the next two weeks will have real on-the-ground impact.  They will find their way into legislation, regulation, and operating practices across the globe. 

This is why CITES stands out.  It is why the international community, including organizations such as the OECD, are now looking at CITES as a model to celebrate and learn from 40 years on.  

Since we last met in 2010, we have seen growing participation and media interest in our Standing and science committee meetings. 

We have record numbers of participants here in Bangkok with strong interest from our traditional partners across many IGOs and NGOs.  Over 2,000 delegates pre-registered for this meeting, including over 150 Parties and more than 200 accredited media representatives.

We are also encouraged by the interest from entities that have not been closely associated with our Convention, such as the African and Asian Development Banks, the Global Environment Facility and the UN Development Programme, who are all participating at this COP.

We warmly welcome all of you and thank you for your support.

Over the past three years the Secretariat has engaged with many regional entities, including the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and many wildlife enforcement networks, including ASEAN-WEN. 

We also appeared for the first time before the Global Environment Facility Council and the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and twice presented to the FAO Committee on Fisheries.

The renewed interest in CITES is fueled, in part, by the disturbing trends we are witnessing in the poaching and illegal trade in the African elephant and rhino for their ivory and horn, with the figures being the worse that we have witnessed in decades.

These trends put at risk the good conservation gains of the past decades and could threaten the very survival of the species themselves. 

Illegal trade in this wildlife has now reached a scale that poses an immediate risk to wildlife and to people, including those serving in the front-lines to protect wildlife.  It increasing involves organized crime syndicates and in some cases rebel militia. 

Wildlife crime has recently been referred to by the UN Security Council, which has linked the Lord’s Resistance Army to illicit trade in ivory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This criminal activity can pose a serious threat to the stability and economy of these countries; it also robs countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it undermines good governance and the rule of law.

These criminals must be stopped and we need to better deploy the sorts of techniques used to combat illicit trade in narcotics to do so. 

At this meeting, you will consider the actions being taken by Parties, the Secretariat, and its partners in the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, and others to reverse these disturbing trends.

We must also enhance awareness-raising efforts in consumer countries to address demand, as many Parties and others are now doing, including through our own work in partnership with UNEP. 

Distinguished delegates, we know the way, now we need the collective will.  Right here, right now, in Bangkok is when we must come together to turn the tables on serious wildlife crime.

The heightened interest in CITES does not stop there. Indeed, countries are increasingly turning to CITES to ensure the legal, sustainable and traceable trade in commercially valuable timber species, with numerous proposals from range States being before you.

This represents a major positive shift in CITES, which has been significantly advanced through our partnership with the International Tropical Timber Organisation to support countries in carrying out the necessary scientific assessments. 

Others are increasingly turning to CITES to contribute towards managing the overharvesting of turtles and tortoises and certain marine species, with many proposals being before you, including for listing sharks and rays.  

It is most encouraging to see the number of proposals that are jointly sponsored by Parties from across different regions, including one from China and the United States; and another from Brazil, Comoros, Croatia, the European Union and Egypt. 

Differences of opinion were expressed at the last COP on the role of CITES in the management of certain marine species.  Since that time, a joint FAO/CITES workshop, held in 2010, concluded that harvest-related and trade-related measures could and should be used in tandem, as apropriate, to ensure the successful management of sharks.  

You also have the advice of the FAO Expert Advisory Panel before you, for which we express our deep gratitude to FAO – and as a result of the creative and thoughtful intersessional work that has been carried out, you are now in a position to finally agree on the full definition of Introduction from the Sea.

In considering these proposals – and the many others before you, we are cognisant of the statement made by World Leaders in Rio last year where they stressed the importance of basing listings of species on agreed criteria.

As your Secretariat, we have used our best endeavours to collect and present the best available science and assessments against the agreed criteria to help inform and assist you in your deliberations.

The Conference of the Parties is sovereign and you will now take your own decisions. 

Equitable participation in these meetings is critical.  The Secretariat managed to raise USD 700,000 for our Sponsored Delegates Project, which enabled us to sponsor 162 delegates from 89 countries.  We express our deep gratitude to all of our donors each of whom are listed on our website and in today’s Daily Journal. 

We are also grateful for the extraordinary support of the Standing and science committees, and observers, who are the backbone of our intersessional work.  We are all very well served by this volunteer effort. 

In particular, I would like to recognize the tireless efforts of the Standing Committee Chair, Øystein Størkersen, of Norway who has been a great support to all committees and the Secretariat. 

Distinguished delegates, since starting this job three years ago, I have been deeply moved by the level of personal and emotional commitment to CITES from governments, scientists, IGOs, NGOs and even private individuals. 

To address current threats and optimize opportunities, we need to better translate this enthusiasm into high-level political and financial support for CITES.  

Your Secretariat has helped to raise over USD 30 million for the Convention over the past few years and at this meeting you will consider whether it is now time to request the Global Environment Facility to serve as a financial mechanism for CITES to help Parties meet their international commitments.

We have a small but extraordinarily committed and capable Secretariat team and I thank each of them for their efforts, along with our many interns, secondees and project staff who provide invaluable support. 

Over the past two years we have welcomed new staff members and other colleagues to the Secretariat from Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland giving us a Secretariat that now better reflects the diversity of our Parties. 

With the growing interest in CITES you probably expect us to be seeking a serious increase in staffing and resources.  Recognizing the current financial and economic situation facing many of our Parties, we have not done so – but we simply cannot afford to have our modest resources further depleted if we are to have any hope of meeting your high expectations. 

The Convention may have reached 40 but there is a new generation embracing CITES.  In just nine months, we have attracted close to 200 ,000 followers to our Facebook page – putting us in the top five in the UN. 

HRH the Duke of Cambridge – who was born several years after CITES was signed – embodies the modern appeal and ongoing recognition of the necessity for CITES.  We are most grateful to His Royal Highness for his video message and for his strong personal support.

Distinguished delegates, the decisions you will take over the coming weeks are critical to the survival of many species and the people and economies that rely upon them.

I wish you well with your deliberations in the knowledge that we have an exemplary Host and that your Secretariat team is here to lend you whatever support you may need.

Korb khun Khrup – thank you.