CITES: Conservation meeting decisions hanging in the balance

Matt McGrath BBC News 13 Mar 13;

Delegates at the Cites conference are expecting a tense final session as some countries seek to overturn decisions taken during the two-week gathering.

It is expected that an attempt will be made to re-open the debate on sharks after the conference voted in favour of regulating international trade in three endangered species earlier this week.

A third of those attending the session would need to vote for such a move.

Planned sanctions on nations involved in ivory trade could also be curtailed.

Tight margins

Campaigners described Monday’s shark vote as “historic” and said it was a coming of age for the 40-year-old Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

While the proposals on oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks were accepted by a two-thirds majority, the margins over and above that threshold were slight in each case.

If the countries opposing the shark ban, led by China and Japan, can muster a third of the conference to re-open the debate, they will only need to convince four countries to change their minds to block the decision on oceanic whitetips.

“I’m very concerned that there may be countries that were present at the original vote who may not be in attendance or who may change their minds,“ Dr Susan Lieberman from Pew Charitable Trusts told BBC News.

“If they do, it would be tragic for the species and tragic for Cites,” she added.

There were unconfirmed reports that some African delegations were being wined and dined by opponents of the ban on trade.

Ivory sanctions

Another major decision looms on attempts to regulate the ivory trade.

The conference has identified 23 countries including China, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo that are key to the supply and consumption of ivory.

A committee of the conference will outline the actions that each of these countries must take to stem the trade.

If these steps are not taken by the summer of 2014, sanctions could be applied.

“It depends on how much progress there is, but if there is absolutely no intent to follow up on those actions, sanctions are a very real possibility,” said Sabri Zain of Traffic, the campaign group that monitors the illegal trade in wildlife.

He said the targets for countries like Nigeria were achievable.

“If you see ivory being sold at the airport terminals, all they need to do is shut it down. These are do-able actions, they are not ones that would require a great deal of new resources,” he added.

There is a chance that these proposals could be watered down. But Mr Zain said that there had been a significant change in Cites, as seen in relation to rhinos, elephants and sharks.

Governments, he said, were no longer seeing these species issues as being about biodiversity - they were seen as threats to national security.

“The criminals who are now poaching elephants and smuggling tiger parts are the same who are funding terrorism and funding militias,” he added. “This is mainstream.”

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