Secretary-General's opening speech to CoP19

Updated on 08 March 2023

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Panama... welcome to my home, welcome to the CoP of the Americas! It has been 20 years since the last CITES CoP in this hemisphere - CoP12 in Santiago, Chile. This CoP has been organized during the pandemic and it hasn't been easy for the host country or the Secretariat to deal with all the challenges that this brought. Despite everything, we are gathered here and I think it is a happy coincidence that we are holding the World Wildlife Conference in Panama. Gathered here to discuss world wildlife trade in a country that connects two oceans and two continents containing 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries and which has been a centre for trade since the 13th century... in the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca cultures. They were trading on land and sea and I wonder if they would be surprised at the species that will be addressed at this meeting.

Our hosts have made an extraordinary effort! We are extremely grateful to the Government of Panama for supporting us when we most needed it, and for its investment, effectiveness and cooperation over the past few months in bringing us to this magnificent and prestigious conference centre. Your Excellency Mr. Vice President, the commitment shown by all parts of the government working under the leadership of the Ministry of Environment is something to be proud of. There are too many people to thank, but I wish to express here how much the Secretariat appreciates your efforts.

Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen... to face the triple planetary crises, much is expected of you during these difficult times. Your efforts for the effective implementation of the Convention are well recognized, but scientific evidence makes clear that much still remains to be done. Over-exploitation of our wildlife and wildlife crime have an impact on habitats, ecosystems, biodiversity and our well-being. Science also tells us that the crises we face are all interlinked. It is timely that our CoP is being held alongside the CoPs of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the Convention on Biological Diversity - we are at a crossroads where much is at stake and the decisions taken in these fora will determine not only the kind of world we will leave to our children, grandchildren and all generations to come but also the one we ourselves will have to live in in the coming months and years.

What effect will the decisions taken here have? Let me start with the 52 amendments before you. Reptiles, amphibians, marine species, tree and plant species are among those that will give rise to discussions and decisions that will shape the future of conservation.

You will also be asked to address broader issues. These include issues of representation, including the consideration of mechanisms to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples, local communities, youth and women. They are the ones who are on the front line and whose future we have in our hands.

Let’s not forget that wildlife crime and habitat destruction bring humans into closer contact with wildlife and expose us to the risk of zoonotic diseases - another issue you will consider in the coming days.

However, there is a debate which we have not addressed in depth and which is becoming increasingly urgent: shared responsibility. Wildlife conservation provides global benefits, but costs are met locally. If progress is to be made, greater support must be given to those Parties that are currently bearing the greatest burden. Two weeks ago, I held a meeting in Nairobi with 24 African elephant range states to discuss mechanisms for sustainable and reliable long-term funding for wildlife conservation. All range states agreed that this was a common issue and considered conflicts between humans and wildlife as one of their top priorities. We need to innovate and explore new sources of finance that were not previously considered, particularly from private investors. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how to move forward.

We are meeting at a crucial moment for our planet and for the Convention. CITES is about to turn 50 - this requires a deep reflection on its past and future. Do we have the right policies in place? Have we made effective investments in time and funding? Are we achieving what was expected when the Convention was ratified? CoP19 will decide the way forward for wildlife conservation. I trust in your skills to bring us closer to our vision of a world where all international trade in wildlife products and derivatives is legal, traceable and sustainable. But we are at a time when we need even more: more commitment than ever, more cooperation, more investment and greater recognition of the urgency of the task we have set ourselves.

Working in isolation, we will not succeed. Partnerships are more important than ever. Working with other biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements and processes, international organisations and non-governmental organisations further strengthens the scientific basis of the Convention. The IPBES reports are an excellent example of this. And, indeed, all eyes are on the adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which will need still greater commitment and cooperation to contribute to the achievement of its goals and objectives.

CITES needs to be at the forefront of those rebuilding our relationship with nature. Sustainability must be the common thread that runs through the decisions made here, to ensure a future in which biodiversity will be recognised for its vital role in our own well-being. Respect for sustainability is the axis on which this new relationship with nature rests, a new contract is needed that allows us to make our contribution to overcome this planetary crisis and emerge even stronger.

The world is watching. Let’s bridge the gaps and rebuild trust as we take these crucial decisions. Our world is becoming increasingly polarized - Dr Wendy Smith encourages leaders to pause and listen - we don’t have to agree with others, but by listening we can learn something and work together to propose something better. As Parties, you have been doing this for the last 50 years and this has made CITES one of the most effective and admired of all multilateral agreements.

Let us work hard, let us work together and know that the Secretariat is here to help you at all times. And please do not forget to enjoy all that Panama’s wonderful nature and two oceans have to offer you.

Thank you