The 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora - took place in Bangkok in early March. Over 1000 representatives from 170 of the 178 state Parties attended, along with around 1000 observers from inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. IUCN and TRAFFIC both had large delegations in attendance - I was part of the IUCN delegation. Around 15 members of SULi were present (1), most of whom were part of delegations of a wide range of other organisations, and we took the opportunity to hold a very constructive and useful SULi meeting. CoP debate and decision-making covered a vast range of species and issues - IUCN is preparing a full report, which should be available from the IUCN website shortly. Here I will briefly summarise key CoP decisions, outline relevant debate and decisions on sustainable use and livelihoods, and reflect on their implications. I have also developed a more extensive report for discussion within SULi and IUCN - please contact me if you would like a copy.

From one perspective, the outcomes of this CoP were very positive. The Conference was framed by the urgency of the poaching crisis for elephants and rhinos in particular, and enforcement actions had a high priority. For elephants and rhinos, agreement was reached on toughened sets of concrete and time-bound commitments, such as coordination of enforcement efforts, use and sharing of forensic evidence, use of more aggressive enforcement techniques, targeting "kingpins", better control of stockpiles, and so on. Many meetings and events to enhance cooperation on enforcement were held, including several events of the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), bringing together government Ministers, Wildlife Enforcement Networks, the Asian Development Bank, senior lawmakers, police and Customs, and the first global meeting of regional Wildlife Enforcement Networks.

In terms of amending the CITES Appendices, the lists of species that determine what level of international trade regulation will be applied by Parties, many observers felt decision-making at the CoP was generally in line with sound science and analysis. Belying CITES' historic reluctance to list commercial fish and timber species, five commercially fished sharks, Manta rays and many tropical rosewoods and ebonies, were added to Appendix II. If the complexities of implementation can be solved, CITES trade controls should significantly help improve monitoring, legality and sustainability for these species. A large number of Asian and US freshwater turtle and tortoise species were uplisted to Appendix I or listed in Appendix II, reflecting the increasing level of threat faced by these species due to trade for food, pets and traditional medicines. Notably, several of these proposals were co-sponsored by the US and China, marking a new level of cooperation between these countries. The West Africa manatee was uplisted to Appendix I. Proposals to list polar bear in Appendix I and downlist part of Colombia's American crocodile population to Appendix II were defeated. Proposals on elephants and rhinos were withdrawn before the CoP.

Sustainable use and livelihoods at CoP 16

A new Resolution on CITES and Livelihoods
This CoP marked a major step forward on addressing the local livelihood impacts of CITES listing decisions. CITES involves restrictions of international trade in wild species, which can have positive impacts on local livelihoods by helping ensure long-term sustainability and counter illegal trade, but can also have negative impacts by restricting local livelihood options. The CoP adopted the new Resolution “CITES and Livelihoods”. Broadly, this resolution recognizes that CITES implementation is better achieved with the engagement of rural communities, particularly those that are traditionally dependent on CITES-listed species for their livelihoods. It recognises that CITES listing decisions can restrict income, employment, food and other resources for rural people, but can also enhance livelihoods by delivering long term species conservation and reducing illegal/unsustainable trade. The Resolution sets out a series of considerations for Parties when addressing livelihoods issues, including fundamental issues such as empowering rural communities through participation in development of CITES policies, maximizing benefits of trade for communities, recognizing resource tenure and ownership and traditional knowledge of rural communities, and mitigating negative impacts of listing through providing assistance (including financial). This resolution received a great deal of strong support in debate, led by South American countries, with the only objections to it raised by the US, who argued that livelihood issues belonged in other fora.

It is important to note that this resolution applies only to the implementation of listing decisions, not to the basis for listing. There remains no basis for recognition or consideration of the perspectives of communities, the impacts on communities, or traditional and local knowledge, in the making of CITES listing decisions. Work on two accompanying documents - the "Nazca Guidelines" and a "Toolkit" for addressing the impact of the implementation of CITES listings on livelihoods of the poor - will continue in the CITES and Livelihoods Working Group. A well-attended and energetic CITES and Livelihoods event organised by Peru brought this issue into focus, with presentations on indigenous and local communities and their use of vicuña in Andean countries, aloe in South Africa, American crocodiles in the Bay of Cispata in Colombia, and polar bear in Canada.

Sustainable use and livelihoods in debate

Sustainable use and livelihoods were important in discussion of several other proposals and side-events, several of which are briefly discussed here. Polar bear was a central and high profile issue - see John Cheechoo's article on this elsewhere in this edition.

American crocodile in Colombia: Local livelihoods and their role in sustainable use were central to the proposal from Colombia to downlist the population of the American crocodile Crocodylus acutus of a particular bay, the Bay of Cispata, from Appendix I to Appendix II. This population has been the subject of a ten year program involving nest collection, incubation and release of crocodiles, involving the release of more than 3000 individuals. The proposal sought to generate greater social and economic value of the wild resource for local communities, and change their perception of the crocodile through conservation through sustainable use. The local community, which is very poor, has been participating in protection and habitat conservation in part with the expectation that this would result in some sustainable economic benefits at some point. However, this proposal failed. IUCN/TRAFFIC’s Analysis found the wild subpopulation still met the criteria for Appendix I and cast doubt on whether the precautionary measures for downlisting from Appendix I to II had been met. While the proposal gained considerable support from the floor, particularly from Latin America, with Peru linking the proposal to the work on CITES and Livelihoods and highlighting the community development aspect of the proposal, including the benefits to communities from sustainable use of the crocodiles, the proposal was rejected.
Sharks and rays: The CoP accepted proposals to list in Appendix II several sharks and manta rays. Livelihoods and the socio-economic impacts of listing were frequently raised in debate on these species, raised in various ways to support or oppose listings. For example, in debate on the oceanic whitetip, St Vincent and the Grenadines expressed concern about the impact of listing on the livelihoods of coastal communities. In debate on scalloped hammerhead, Mexico highlighted the importance of the catch for coastal communities, but pointed out most of its trade was national; the EU and others highlighted that curbing overfishing through listing was important to preserve the socio-economic benefits from tourism; and New Zealand argued that listing would help address IUU fishing and have a positive impact on food and livelihoods for subsistence fisheries. 

Vicuña dialogue: The Vicuña dialogue (a side-event organised by the International Trade Centre with partners TRAFFIC, Peru and others) focused on the CITES success story of vicuña, asking how vicuña use could more effectively reduce poverty among Andean communities. At least some populations of all range countries are now downlisted to Appendix II (after Ecuador’s successful proposal at the CoP). While local benefits are modest in dollar terms, several speakers highlighted that this income made a very important impact in practice, given the poverty of the communities involved. However, communities still gain only a half a percentage of the final value of vicuña fibre, and the event sought to encourage discussion about how to address this. The critical need to strengthen producers’ associations and their bargaining power and market access was highlighted, in order to achieve more equitable benefit-sharing. Other issues included competition between vicuña and other land uses, and the need to strengthen local voices, improve quality, and increase value-adding in producer countries. Ecuador raised the issue of policy barriers to vicuña use, highlighting that [as is so frequently the case globally] sustainable use of exotic species was much easier than for vicuña, and they were making efforts to simplify the regulatory and administrative framework.

Rhino horn trade
: A major series of side-events were organised by South Africa on rhinos. South Africa announced in the lead-up to the CoP that they were planning to explore the option of legal international trade in rhino horn, so these side-events were aimed at preparing the ground by informing CITES stakeholders of the state of rhino populations, management, anti-poaching, etc. The side event on “Rhino Economics” was particularly interesting. One presentation summarised the situation of the ca. 5000 private rhino owners in South Africa, who hold around a quarter of the national herd. It highlighted the increased poaching and security costs (160 million Rand to 450 mR over ten years) experienced by private owners, and the associated decrease in the prices of rhinos at auction. The speaker characterised private ownership as "hanging on a cliff edge", with 340 000ha already lost to rhino conservation. He argued against following the same trajectory as black rhino, where (under a horn trade ban) populations declined by ca 80% over 45 years, and argued for taking the value of the horn trade out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of those who would invest in conservation. Johannes De Lange, a South African parliamentarian, stated that South Africa would only seek to trade in horn from natural mortality (i.e. no dehorning), and that this should easily replace the amount of horn currently on the market, removing the returns to poaching and therefore the incentives to poach. (It is worth noting it is questionable whether current stockpiles and horn from natural mortality would be enough to keep prices low over the medium term).


Two general issues stood out for me from this CoP in terms of sustainable use and livelihoods.

The first concerns how CITES Parties make decisions. It is important to note that formally, Parties are directed to make listing decisions only on the basis of specified biological and trade criteria (according to Res. Conf. 9.24 (Rev CoP13)). CITES provisions do not ask Parties to judge whether a listing would help or hinder species conservation, how it would affect those who use or live with the species, or how these impacts are in turn likely to affect species conservation. (In practice, of course, Parties regularly raise quite different considerations in debate and make clear their positions are based on them, as do NGOs. For instance, TRAFFIC’s Recommendations to Parties include considerations that go well beyond these.) However, understanding the broader context of local use and reliance on a wild resource is arguably essential from both conservation and social justice perspectives. From a pure conservation perspective, understanding how a CITES decision will affect people, and in particular rural communities who use and live with wild species, will often be essential to understanding its likely conservation impact. An obvious lesson from CITES history is that trade restrictions do not seamlessly lead to decreased (legal and illegal) harvest and trade! From a rights-based perspective, it is arguably inconsistent with basic ethical requirements (and widespread policy commitments) for international species conservation to be pursued at the cost of making poverty and marginalization worse. These considerations argue in favour of livelihood impacts being integrated into the decision-making process, making any trade-offs between human wellbeing and conservation clear in decision-making, providing a basis for assessing whether alternative measures could achieve the same goal less restrictively, and whether mitigation measures are required.

Currently there are major information gaps around the local context of use with respect to a species, including the cultural importance, level of use and benefit for indigenous and local communities, how local people view the species (particularly in terms of human/wildlife conflict), how decisions are likely to impact on them, whether use is providing any incentives for management or benefits to offset costs of living with wild species, and how decisions would impact on these. The IUCN/TRAFFIC Analyses, widely viewed as the most authoritative and objective source of information, does not encompass these questions. This raises the question of whether IUCN could potentially play a role in addressing these in a structured way in the future.

The second issue is the general lack of participation at CITES meetings of the people directly affected by trade controls (2). The Inuit participated strongly at CoP 16, both as part of Inuit organisations with observer status (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Government of Nunavut etc), and as part of the Canadian Delegation, and their participation was felt by many to have had a strong influence on the debate. Hearing directly from people culturally or economically linked to the species in question about their views on a decision, and how it would affect them, carries considerable weight. But it is rare for the communities actually affected by CITES decisions to be present at the COP. In the past, communities affected by issues of debate (notably elephants), have attended and been active at CITES meetings on occasion. However, communities often have limited resources and are not necessarily strongly supported by their Governments. Notably, there is no organised voice at CITES meetings seeking to channel the perspectives of communities into the debate. When one compares this to the formidable organised forces acting in the interests of animal protection (the Species Survival Network), or for biodiversity conservation (IUCN/TRAFFIC/WWF and others), there is an enormous imbalance of power.

Implications for SULi?

  • Based on our discussions at the SULi meeting held during the CoP, a key role for SULi with respect to CITES is to act as a platform for convening creative thinking and exploration of issues underlying CITES decisionmaking.
  • There is considerable scope for SULi to engage in and contribute to the ongoing CITES and Livelihoods process, working with other parts of IUCN and TRAFFIC. Areas of potential engagement include assisting in finalizing the Toolkit and Guidelines; helping motivate, organize, and providing technical input into workshops/side-events on CITES and Livelihoods, as envisaged in CoP Decisions on this subject; and informing this process with detailed knowledge through e.g. developing case studies on (positive and negative) experiences of CITES and livelihoods.
  • SULi could seek to help address the information gaps outlined above - on the context of use and management of a taxon and its relevance to culture and livelihoods - working with other parts of IUCN and TRAFFIC.  For example, for a subset of proposals where local livelihoods/incentives are particularly relevant, IUCN could carry out an analysis of (or include in the Analyses) the context of indigenous/local community management and use of the species and its importance for livelihoods and incentives for conservation. This analysis could be based on a set of agreed and consistent parameters, drawn perhaps from the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (which have been endorsed as useful guidance by CITES Parties).
  • In terms of the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities at CITES meetings, there are no obvious easy solutions. CITES decisions affect communities in a very patchy and geographically dispersed way. SULi could consider whether it could help address this situation through means such as providing relevant civil society organisations (e.g. the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity) with advice and information; establishing processes to review proposals for relevance, gather indigenous and local perspectives, and seek to ensure these are represented at CITES meetings; or seek establishment of a travel fund earmarked for indigenous/local communities affected by CITES decision-making to attend.

Rosie Cooney is Chair of SULi


(1) Kai Wollscheid, Steve Broad, Holly Dublin, Thomasina Oldfield, John Donaldson, Despina Symons, Deb Hahn, John Cheechoo, Carolina Caceras (who Chaired Committee I), Philippe Chardonnet, Michael t-Sas-Rolfes, John J. Jackson, Tamas Marghescu, Willem Wijnstekers, Diane Skinner, Rob Parry-Jones.

(2) I wrote an IUCN blog on this during the CoP