Thursday, 25 March 2010

CITES wrap-up

Well, the talking and voting are over, and as far as this meeting goes it was Doha equals No-ha.

Or at least it was for most of the high profile species - Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, elephants, sharks and corals.

The return, and subsequent reversal of the listing of Porbeagle at plenary was entirely predictable, but even so, it went down like the final slap in the face with a wet fish.

But amongst all the debris, there were a few successes, although you had to look fairly hard to spot them.

Probably the best was parties actually working together and committing to action to tackle the escalating rhino poaching, a renewed commitment to protect tigers and other Asian big cats from trade, and vows for action to protect the Humphead Wrasse, which has been having a very hard time in its coral reef haunts.

Enforcement efforts to tackle illegal trade also got a boost - with more resources committed and high level intergovernmental backing.

But after all the talk, lobbying, and sheer energy expended, you have to ask, were the gains really worth the effort expended? If all the resources poured into lobbying to make sure marine species weren't listed in the Convention were instead diverted to ways to support sustainable fisheries, the meeting could have made a real conservation impact. Instead, it's business as usual for most.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Porbeagle pickup

Well, the last report was premature as it turned out, becasue lo and behold, the Porbeagle shark made the grade and got listed! It was a close run thing though, as the vote went through 86 in favour to 42 against. Just one vote the other away and the poor beagle would have gone down too.

It was a secret ballot, and the Belgian delegation saved the day by pointing out their voting button didn't work - and neither did that of their neighbours the Czech Republic. The chair called for everyone to vote YES to test the system, and it came back with 7 NOs and 2 Abstentions. Work that one out if you can...

Earlier, some nifty camera work saved the blushes of two delegates who were caught kissing on camera while the Saudi delegate was speaking. The camera quickly averted its gaze and that of the watching media in the press room.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

CITES lacking bite

Well, as i write this, we're half-way through a day of disaster for sharks. This morning both the hammerhead proposal and the whitetip sharks propospals fell by the wayside. Ho hum; those were the two most pundits had down as evens at worst.

Now, we're just hearing a re-hash of the same arguments for the fourth time that'll ultimately end up with a reasonably close vote - but I wouldn't hold your breathe on it being one that's good for conservation. Nope it's Doha = Noha for this meeting.

At least there was something positive to come out of Committee meeting two, where action to tackle rhino poaching got a thumbs up, as did stronger measures to protect Humphead Wrasse; a special thanks to China for strenthening the latter, with an amendment on the need for stricter domestic measures to protect the Wrasse from illegal trade.

Elephants a no-go at CITES

Yesterday was dedicated to elephants - although none of the proposals on the table made the grade with the delegtates - indeed it was a day of frustration for many.

Closest to get over the line was Zambia's request to download its elephant population to Appendix II. However, after a prolonged discussion it failed to do so by a handful of votes. The signficance of an Appendix II listing, in case you're wondering is that it would pave the way for the country to sell its ivory at some future stage.

There is a second chance for it - and indeed for all proposals as on Thursday, we have the plenary session. This is effectively a rubber-stamping the decisions taken exercise, but as the last CITES meeting shows, it can also be a chance to bring back some of close decisions for more debate. Last time it was painful, two of the more conservation important decisions overturned. This time, we can only hope some important decisions actually make it through.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Saturday snooze

Well, it was a day off for most on the Friday / Saturday weekend, but things fully back into the fray today (Sunday).

Exciting goings on in both committee rooms, with corals shortly to come up in I and some last minute finalizations of Asian Big Cat resolutions in II.

Later, we may get round to the first of 4 shark proposals, although most here are hoping those are all tackled in one full-on day on sharks on Tuesday.

Tomorrow looks like being dedicated to elephants...nothing controversial there then.

Hot news - both the Ctenosaura (iguanas) proposals just got accepted.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Dead ducks

No prizes for guessing what grabbed all the media headlines in yesterday's action-packed day at the meeting.

Well, it wasn't the Marianas Mallard, which quietly slipped into oblivion, with not one objection raised to the proposal to delist it.

But not so the Bluefin Tuna, where you could almost cut the atmosphere with a knife in the meeting room.

The Libyan delegate held forth with a lively intervention, which ultimately led to a vote on the proposal being called. At that stage, the debate was less than an hour away from the relative safety of a working group, which could have met over the weekend and ironed out the differences between parties.

Instead, into the vote we headed. And what an outcome - a resounding defeat for the proposal.

So that's it then: days, weeks, months of lobbying all backed up by sound science.

For what - so the world can put all its faith back into a management process that has been failing for years.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The day of the triffids

Well, not quite triffids, but the day's proceedings were certainly dominated by plants, which took up most of the time in Committee 1 - where the more lively issues are generally discussed.

Meanwhile, the gearing up for tomorrow's media-extravaganza began in earnest: looking likely to come up tomorrow are Bluefin Tuna, sharks, and the EU Tiger resolution document.

Rather like London buses, you wait for a really big issue to arise, and along come at least 3 or 4 together. It could well be a long, long day...

Whether we'll actually get to the vote on some of these remains to be seen - somewhere there was talk of three hours maximum to discuss the tuna. If that isn't enough, off we go to a working group which could report at any time. Place your bets...the once thing certain is the heat will be on in Doha tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sharks get bitten

Things really starting to crank up here in Doha, and at 35 degrees Centigrade, so did the heat.

It's not long now till the big one - Bluefin Tuna - when you can guarantee there'll be a media feeding frenzy.

Committee one finally got through some of the less newsworthy agenda items and onto something more people could get their teeth into; a resolution that would have helped shark conservation.

However, after a round of familiar rhetoric, the resolution was narrowly defeated - no doubt we'll hear the same arguments plenty of times over the coming days...

Today, plants are dominating the agenda, and although no less important to conserve them, they just don't generate the media interest large animals command.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Climate change, money - oh, and wildlife trade

The CITES conference is in full swing today with business running in two committees. That sounds nice and cosy, but each committee is really a replica of the full conference with the full array of 130 plus government delegations and at least as many observers in two rooms the size of aircraft hangers.

Committee I took an interesting turn in the morning today with a debate on the idea of reviewing the impact of climate change on CITES listed species. Much support was expressed, but also some strong opposition from the Chinese delegation, which considered this topic too complicated and political for CITES to address objectively. Lots of other business done on other subjects.

Meanwhile Committee II discussed livelihoods, strategy for CITES development and other technical matters, but its main feature of the day was a preliminary review of the dire status of the CITES budget. More resources are clearly needed to address the diverse wildlife trade challenges faced by CITES, but it is not clear where they will come from. More coming on this later in the meeting.

Aside from the committee business, features of the day were a press conference on tiger and rhino conservation, a lunch event on shark trade and a lot of lobbying in the corridors on the big decisions ahead on tuna, elephants and sharks in particular.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Spectacular opening ceremony

A spectacular opening ceremony with drums and traditional dancing marked the formal start of the CITES meeting here in Doha.

Around 40 dancers performed before a packed audience - and when I've found the cable to download photos from my camera, a picture of them will be posted here.

Afterwards there was the customary speeches including one by the outgoing Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers an eloquent one by Achim Steiner Director General of UNEP.

The lack of budget hindering implementation of the Convention was noted as a significant problem that needs to be addressed. But more on that as the meeting unravels...

Media-wise, things starting to pick up nicely: a great piece by TRAFFIC on elephants and ivory sales in New Scientist, also mention in a BBC News piece about the meeting, DPA and AFP coverage.

Meanwhile, three senior staff were interviewed live by Al Jazeera TV, who have a camera crew at the meeting itself. If you didn't catch them live, don't worry, they'll be repeated till the next round, finally Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Network broadcast an interview with TRAFFIC on two issues particularly relevant to Canada.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Tigers, mahogany and CITES preliminaries

Friday's meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (the treaty's executive body) gave a good flavour of the deliberations to come over the coming two weeks of the CoP.

First big news of the day was the announcement that the new Secretary General of CITES will be John Scanlon - not so long ago a colleague of ours at IUCN, where he ran the Environmental Law Programme before joining UNEP in Nairobi. So - looking forward to catching up with him and his plans for the Secretariat later in the meeting.

Otherwise, two key issues stood out on the agenda. An update on Asian Big Cat (yes, that includes tigers) trade made reference to a document that will be considered next week submitted by the IUCN that calls for strengthened action by governments to clamp down on illegal trade and close down tiger farms. This attracted some comments of support, but also a strong reaction from the Chinese government, which considers some aspects of the proposal relating to domestic trade to be beyond the authority of CITES and a potential infrongement on sovereignty.

Overall a puzzling reaction, since international trade (CITES' main focus) by definition must be heading to a domestic markets in someone's country. CITES was established in the first place on the principle that individual countries can only do so much to control wildlife trade and need other countries to adopt trade controls to support them. And the CITES member governments have a long track record of agreeing (usually unanimously) restrictions on internal trad - such as closing down Chiru weaving, market controls on caviar as well as the long-standing agreements to close down domestic use of rhino and tiger products. Debate on the EU proposal will resume next week.

The other fascinating issue of the day was on mahogany trade in Peru. Concerns about levels of export, conservation impacts and illegal sourcing have been running in CITES for a decade. Based on a recent review by the CITES Secretariat there was a call this week for Peru to adopt a voluntary moratorium on exports until improved controls were in place. TRAFFIC spoke passionately about on-going evidence of failures in the regulation of mahogany trade in the country and the decline of mahogany stands to the point of commercial extinction. Peru firmly declined the call for a moratorium, so the Standing Committee issued an ultimatum - in six months if progress cannot be shown they will vote on a mandatory ban on Peru's mahogany exports. A clear message, but also the risk of another six months of damage to Peru's forests.

So - some good pointers for the action to come.

Next on Saturday is the offical opening of the CoP.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Almost there

After a couple of days of pre-meetings, the TRAFFIC, WWF and IUCN delegations are fully prepared for the fray.

The foot's on the pedal, the clutch depressed and we're just awaiting starters orders.

Tomorrow is standing committee - where Asian big cats will no doubt attract the greatest interest.

After that, the full meeting itself gets underway and the waiting will be over.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Heating up in Doha

The TRAFFIC delegation to CITES CoP15 convened in Doha today with colleagues from WWF and IUCN to finalise preparations for our participation at the CITES Conference of the Parties, which kicks off here on Saturday.

Some of the big issues coming up on the conference agenda are heating up in the final run up to the meeting. One of the official CITES reviews of proposals to allow ivory trade has been released (for Tanzania) and that for Zambia is due any time. And the manouvering of government positions in Europe and elsewhere on the proposal to halt commercial international trade in Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is becoming rather intense as the days before formal debate here gets underway decline in number.

Needless to say, our team here is following developments closely and providing ideas and advice on a regular basis.

Another day of final preparations and our first on-site press conference tomorrow. Then the CITES Standing Committee (the Convention's executive body) meets on Friday.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Media gears up

Things are really swinging into gear now with increasing levels of media interest in what promises to be a fascinating CITES meeting.

A joint WWF-TRAFFIC media phone conference held twice today - morning and evening for different time zones - attacted a good number of journalists and some interesting and challenging questions.

Not surprisingly, the media questions focused on some of the biggest isses coming up, with Bluefin Tuna probably the most talked about. Journalists asked about the possible impact of the proposed CITES Appendix I listing (in effect a ban on commercial international trade), relationships with ICCAT (the inter-governmental organisation responsible for management of this valuable fishery) and the positioning of EU governments and Japan in particular.

Elephants and ivory trade figured too. TRAFFIC's spokesperson on the calls noted concern that attention to the new requests from Tanzania and Zambia to be allowed to export legal government ivory stocks could well distract much-needed attention from the underlying problem of poorly regulated markets in specific countries that had long been identified as drivers of illegal trade.

Other questions focused on tiger farming, shark proposals and a report on the status of the world's rhinoceroses (co-written by TRAFFIC) that raised serious concern about an upsurge in poaching in Zimbabwe and South Africa and the role of Vietnamese nationals in related illegal trade.

If the media questioning today was anything to go by, at least we should get some good coverage of the deliberations in Doha and that this will have some positive impact on the decisions reached by governments at the meeting.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Recs arrived

Well, it sounds as if the printed materials have made it OK. The usual complications with the should we / shouldn't we pay the Customs duty, but all seems amicably resolved.

Shortly afterwards, the printed overs arrived in Cambridge: Surrey to Qatar faster than Surrey to Cambridge. Looks like the British postal service has gone back to the days of horse and carriage.

Right off to start on the packing...I wonder if the air con will be on full in Qatar and I'll need those winter woolies.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Just over a week to go...

A week to go before the big meeting kicks off, and things are getting hectic.

Still, the printed materials - the IUCN-TRAFFIC Analyses and TRAFFIC Recommendations - are on their way, but whether they'll arrive and clear Customs in time remains to be seen.

Still, the good news is that the Japanese translations of the Rec
s are already at our hotel, so if all else fails, we can use these for lobbying. A crash course in Japanese might come in handy though.

Last CITES meeting we drove to The Hague; I offered to do the same this time, and I'm sure it would have been a worthwhile experience, but sadly couldn't get the visa to drive through Saudi. Still, I'm sure Qatar Airways will do us proud.