Will 2022 Be Yet Another Year Of Lost Opportunities and Greenwashing?

Participating in CITES CoP 18, in Geneva in 2019, it was clear how broken the system regulating the international trade of the world’s most endangered species has become.

So, what could provide the leverage for change?

The only light on the horizon at the time was the Convention on Biological Diversity Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and specifically Target 5.  The draft Target 5 stated that all trade in wild species would be legal and sustainable by 2030. 

Originally scheduled for agreement in October 2020 in Kunming, China, the CBD CoP15 was cancelled due to COVID-19. As a result of the pandemic Target 5 was expected to be modified to “all trade in wild species would be legal and sustainable and safe for human health by 2030”.

So why is Target 5 so important to Nature Needs More’s push to modernise CITES?

  1. CITES is the only global mechanism in place to regulate the trade in wild species. Trade has a much greater chance of being legal and sustainable if CITES is fit-for-purpose, which is currently isn’t.
  2. A global rollout of the CITES ePermit system could help ensure that all trade is legal (by decoupling the legal and illegal trade).
  3. A global rollout of the CITES ePermit system could help ensure that all trade is sustainable, by creating more transparent supply chains.
  4. The fact that the CBD was pushing Target 5 for all species was the leverage to move CITES to a reverse (positive) listing model, where the default is no trade.

After several delays the CBD CoP15 will now be held in December 2022, after CITES CoP19, which starts today. There have been many factors that led to Nature Needs More’s decision not to go to CITES CoP19 but the more than 2-year delay in the CBD CoP15 was the main one.

Other reasons for the decision to not attend CITES CoP19 include the outcomes of critical meetings that have happened over 2022.

June 2022: Nairobi biodiversity talks end in stalemate. Lack of political leadership leaves crucial nature summit ‘in peril’.

June 2022: After 20 years of failed negotiations, the World Trade Organization has proposed a deal to curb harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, but there are “big holes” in the agreement.

August 2022: Two weeks of negotiations to finally agree a treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas, have ended in failure. UN member states have failed to agree on a treaty to protect the high seas from exploitation, with scientists, environmentalists and conservation organisations blaming states that were “dragging their feet” for the “glacial pace” of talks. Negotiators have been trying for 15 years to agree on a legally binding text to address the multitude of issues facing international waters.

November 2022: Climate CoP26 one year on we are still on the fast track to climate disaster, our present trajectory is in line with the IPCC ‘business as usual’ scenario and 3.2 degrees warming by the end of the century. Cop26 ended with an agreement that governments would “revisit and strengthen” their plans to slash planet-heating emissions before the 2022 conference. According to the UN, however, just 24 of 193 countries have submitted improved emissions reduction targets since then.

For the oceans, land and wild species, 2022 has so far been an annus horribilis for all three. The road to CITES CoP19 has been littered with greenwashing and failure.

Maybe the most telling lack of progress is the decision to include Coca-Cola as a major sponsor of this year’s United Nations climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh, after it was named the world’s leading polluter of plastics in 2021. Coca Cola has increased its use of new plastics since 2019 by 3 percent to 3.2 million tons, according to an annual report issued this month by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

On the flip side, the last 3 years haven’t been all bad:

  1. CITES signatories implementing electronic permitting has gone from just 2 countries to 15.
  2. The EU has created an EU-wide electronic permit system they will roll out in 2023, they will present this at a CITES CoP19 side event. If this is done in 2023, 27 countries in the EU will push the implementation of electronic past the 30 countries the secretariat believes will create a tipping point for global adoption.
  3. The UK covered the cost of implementing the new CITES Trade View website, which was launched in March 2022.
  4. The CITES Secretariat will formalise in writing at CoP 19 that they support developing nations request wealthy nations cover the cost of rolling out CITES electronic permits on their behalf. Nature Needs More believes that:
    1. The US should support Latin America countries
    2. Europe should support continental African countries
    3. Australia must support Pacific Island nations and the Mekong region
  5. This year for the first time there is a submission calling on the standing committee to develop a methodology for producing a World Wildlife Trade Report. The submission calls for the report to look at patterns of trade and how the trade is developing. For nearly 50 years CITES has been a trade convention with no trade analytics.

And in relation to the CBD negotiations, Nature Needs More is heartened to see negotiators representing countries in continental Africa proposing a 1% biodiversity levy on the retail price of all products based on genetic resources and DSI, with proceeds going to biodiversity conservation around the world. Nature Needs More recommendations they also push for a 1% biodiversity levy on the retail price of all products made from species listed for CITES trade restrictions.

Nature Needs More will continue to lobby CITES and CITES signatory parties over the next 3 years until 2025. We hope that Australia will offer to host CITES CoP20.

In closing, we present two reports:

Report 1: Immediate Steps For Discussion At CITES CoP19 To Ensure CITES Is Effective (published November 2022). This document outlines urgent measures that can be adopted by the Conference of the Parties to vastly improve the effectiveness of CITES without the need to renegotiate the articles of the convention. The Short-Term Priorities highlighted, which are possible under the current model, should all be implemented by CITES 50th year of enforcement in 2025. Only with this can CITES retain any form of relevance and credibility in line with its stated objective and primary vision for 2030.

Report 2: Modernising CITES – A Blueprint for Better Trade Regulation (published June 2021). This document outlines a new regulatory framework for CITES based on whitelisting (reverse listing), regulating business directly and businesses paying the full cost of regulation. The model we present makes business responsible for internalising compliance, yet keeps companies at arm’s length from the regulator and the regulatory process. We offer a detailed account of how this model would work in practice, under real life conditions. We show that it is financially viable, providing US$9-13.5 BILLION annually to regulate, manage, monitor and enforce the trade. Finally we offer a path for CITES signatory countries to make it happen, acknowledging the difficulty involved in opening the articles for re-negotiation. This report can be downloaded in all official UN languages, by following this link.