He continued, “The [CITES] convention itself neither promotes or discourages trade. It is agnostic on the matter. Rather CITES regulates trade in certain species to ensure the trade is legal and not detrimental to the survival of that species…It seeks to ensure that any such international trade is sustainable…. So, what is CITES? It is both a conservation and a trade related convention. It uses trade related measure to achieve its conservation objective, namely protecting certain wildlife against overexploitation for international trade and in doing so it contributes towards achieving sustainable development”.
In recent years Scanlon has expressed in many articles the ‘narrow’ and specific focus of the CITES convention, often concluding that his belief is that it has been successful within its narrow focus.
So, lets unpick what he said.
“CITES is a convention of the 1970s, it reflects the approach of its time.” What is Scanlon saying here? Is he admitting just how old fashioned and out of date CITES is? If this is the case, why during his 8 years as Secretary General of CITES did he not invest in modernising the convention to ensure it is a convention of and for the 2020s (and beyond) and not the 1970s? Let’s remember the CITES convention has had only one, narrow, review in its nearly 50-year history back in 1994.
Setting aside how ridiculous Scanlon’s first statement is, let’s look at another: “The [CITES] convention itself neither promotes or discourages trade. It is agnostic on the matter. Rather CITES regulates trade in certain species to ensure the trade is legal and not detrimental to the survival of that species…It seeks to ensure that any such international trade is sustainable….”
Given Scanlon again stresses the ‘narrow’ objective of the convention, “regulates trade in certain species to ensure the trade is legal and not detrimental to the survival of that species…”, why has so little work been done, including over his 8 years as Secretary General, to implement modern, electronic monitoring systems? Even over the narrow mandate, Scanlon stresses, CITES has failed. How can he possibly believe CITES is a success?? Maybe the answer lies in what was said by other speakers, which amounted to, while CITES isn’t perfect, I can’t imagine where we would be if it hadn’t been there.
How is that a good enough argument to justify why the convention hasn’t been reviewed and modernised to reflect what is needed to monitor current and future trade volumes and transparency? Veterans of CITES have enabled it to remain “a convention of the 1970s” and “reflect the approach of its time”.
Nothing highlights this as strongly than the presenters on the panel, some with 30-year and 40-year histories of working with CITES, commenting that the submission calling on the standing committee to develop a methodology for producing a World Wildlife Trade Report, “caught their eye” and is “an interesting initiative”. The submission calls for the report to look at patterns of trade and how the trade is developing.
If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be frankly ridiculous that a trade convention with a narrow focus on “regulating trade in certain species to ensure the trade is legal and not detrimental to the survival of that species” has not produced any trade analytics, trade risk flags or a World Wildlife Trade Report in its 50-year history.
These statements alone highlight why the global conservation sector has failed wildlife, because of a lack of willingness and ability to challenge (covert) agendas and deal with them surgically. The extinction crisis is not occurring because of the need for more research but because of the need for good governance. If the conservation sector cannot learn to deal with business agendas, politics and power plays it will remain marginalised and ineffective in saving the natural world from the effects of unconstrained growth.
Corporate capture of the conservation sector has enabled the scale of the legal trade in wild species to remain invisible. This, in turn, has enabled industries and businesses to maintain plausible deniability on how they are driving biodiversity loss and make huge profits from their desire to supply.