CITES CoP17, by Associate Professor Ed Couzens

 The 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) met in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24 September to 4 October 2016. CITES is a crucial international convention which covers an essential component of international conservation efforts – international trade in endangered wild species. CITES operates by categorising species for greater or lesser levels of protection from commercial trade, according to their perceived status of endangerment in the wild. Approximately 1,000 species are listed on Appendix I (virtually no commercial trade) and approximately 34,000 on Appendix II (limited commercial trade). The CITES CoP meets every three years in order to consider proposals for listing species, or for transferring species between lists – as well as to decide multiple administrative matters such as how endangered status should be determined, whether certain matters should be researched, and how decisions should be taken.

In 2016 the CoP considered 62 individual proposals for uplisting or downlisting of individual species – many of which required votes on whether they would be adopted or not. Some of the more controversial and/or newsworthy included unsuccessful proposals to open a limited trade in elephant ivory for Namibia and Zimbabwe; an unsuccessful proposal to open a limited trade in rhinoceros horn for Swaziland; an unsuccessful proposal to downlist the peregrine falcon to Appendix II; successful proposals to list silky sharks, thresher sharks and mobula rays on Appendix II; successful proposals to list several pangolin species from Africa and Asia on Appendix I; a successful proposal to list the African grey parrot on Appendix I; and a compromise agreement on a proposal to list the African lion on Appendix I (the lion being listed on Appendix II with certain constraints on trade in products being introduced). 

Given Australia’s valuable and highly endemic biodiversity, CITES is a priority convention for the country. Australia even generally accords higher protection domestically to listed species than is required internationally – implementation being achieved through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, this was a quiet CoP for Australia and the country did not become embroiled in any major controversies. Australia put forward two proposals, both of which were successful. These proposals were to downlist from Appendix I to Appendix II the helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) on the basis that, while critically endangered, international trade is not a threat to the subspecies; and similarly to downlist the Norfolk Island boobook owl (Ninox novaeseelandiae undulata), on the basis that the genetically pure form of the subspecies is extinct and that the remaining (hybrid) subspecies is not threatened by international trade.

The 18th Conference of the Parties will be held in Sri Lanka in 2019.

ACCEL Director A/Prof. Ed Couzens attended as a representative of the Environmental Law Association of South Africa.