The CITES convention is rapidly approaching its 50-year anniversary; the convention was opened for signatures in 1973 and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975. This milestone cannot pass without CITES providing all the evidence that it is fit-for-purpose, particularly given the looming extinction crisis.
CITES never included a funding model to enable all signatories to adequately resource scientific research, monitoring and enforcement. Far too many signatory countries still lack the mandated scientific authority or a dedicated enforcement authority. Whilst creating a dedicated enforcement authority is optional under CITES, the illegal trade is rampant and growing 2-3 times faster than the world economy overall. This makes CITES effectively a paper convention, impoverished to the point of being useless. The lack of basic population data for most species makes the idea of ‘sustainable use’ meaningless, as evidenced by the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report.
With most funding to regulate and monitor the legal trade coming from signatory governments and with government budgets under severe pressure worldwide, there is little prospect of a massive increase in total funding to better enforce CITES. Without such a massive funding increase, the 2030 CITES Strategic Vision is not achievable. In addition, as we have seen over decades, government pledges for extra funding are miniscule, inadequate and often not even honoured.
There has been ample evidence that CITES processes cannot adequately cope with the ever-increasing number of listed species, which currently stands at around 40,000. The lack of funding means that in its current form CITES will continue to fail the vast majority of listed species. Listing more species does not lead to better conservation outcomes if funding does not increase in proportion to the number of species listed.
With government and philanthropic funding unlikely to increase significantly, it is therefore inconceivable that CITES in its current form can achieve its primary vision for 2030 without having businesses contribute to the cost of regulation. Such a move would bring this trade in line with other regulated industries where businesses are required to pay fees commensurate with regulatory costs.
In a 2019 presentation, about the need to modernise CITES, Nature Needs More provided a comparison of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). At the time the EMA received an annual budget of €317million (US$375 million [the exchange rate at the time]). Of this nearly 90% of the budget was derived from fees and charges to business. The EMA had 900 staff who processed 60 applications to market new medicines of which 45 were denied. For 2022, the total budget of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) amounts to €417.5 million (US$431million), with around 86% of the budget derived from fees and charges to business, 13% from the European Union (EU) contribution for public-health issues and less than 1% from other sources. Clearly business is paying the cost of regulation here.
Using an image Nature Needs More created in 2019, with the evidence available at the time:
Clearly, to become effective with the current volume of trade the CITES needs a secure, ongoing source of adequate funding, which can only come from the businesses profiting from the trade. It is possible to implement a ‘Business Pays’ funding model, even under the current articles of the convention.
Here, Nature Needs More highlights measures that can be adopted to vastly improve the effectiveness of CITES without the need to renegotiate the articles of the convention. Only with such reform can CITES retain any form of relevance and credibility in line with its stated objective and primary vision for 2030.