#Guest87 - John E. Scanlon General Secretary of CITES

At CoP17, for the first time, Parties took targeted decisions on corruption, cybercrime, traceability, demand reduction for illegally traded animals (...) CITES CoP17 held in Johannesburg in South Africa was a game changer for the world’s most vulnerable wildlife and one that delivered on new frontiers for wildlife in ways not seen before.
— John E. Scanlon

1 - You work for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora since 2010. What are the greatest achievements of this COP17 on wildlife?

CoP17 in South Africa will be remembered as the largest CITES CoP in the 43 year history of the Convention in terms of the number of participants and issues tabled for discussion.  More importantly, the meeting will be hailed as game changer and one that delivered on new frontiers for wildlife in ways not seen before.

By the end of CoP17, CITES Parties had adopted 51 of the 62 proposals to change the listing status of close to 500 species of wild animals and plants under CITES Appendices,  39 resolutions and 312 decisions.   These far reaching outcomes of CoP17 will impact on wildlife and ecosystems, as well as on people and economies.

And CoP17 did so in record time, finishing one day ahead of schedule for the first time ever, which was testament to a combination of a generous Host government in South Africa that created the perfect mood for the CoP, fantastic goodwill amongst the Parties, excellent preparation by the Host, Parties and the Secretariat, and the active and constructive involvement of many different observers.

CoP17 certainly lived up to the pre CoP hype as being one of the most critical meetings in the 43 year history of the Convention, being described as “the most important conservation event you've never heard of” by one insightful observer.

At CoP17, for the first time, Parties took targeted decisions on corruption, cybercrime, traceability, demand reduction for illegally traded animals and plants and the making of legal acquisition findings, as well as major decisions on captive breeding. These decisions greatly enhance the outcomes from CoP16 in 2013thereby closing the circle on the package of measures needed to bring illegal wildlife trade to an end.

The ‘firsts’ were not limited to the CoP itself. In the margins of CoP17 the first wildlife crime global partnerships coordination forumwas hosted by ICCWC (International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime),  and the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group convened. 

It was the second time the world’s wildlife enforcement networks met , after first meeting at CoP16, and there was agreement amongst participants that ICCWC, the wildlife enforcement networks and the INTERPOL Working Group should continue to convene at each CITES CoP.

Many new animals and plants, including marine species, such as silky and thresher sharks and devil rays, as well as hundreds of timber species, such as those in the entire genus Dalbergia (being over 300 species of rosewood), were all brought under CITES trade control regime for the first time.  These decisions built upon the momentum that started in Bangkok in 2013 at CoP16, where Parties turned to CITES to assist them along the path to sustainability in our oceans and forests. 

These new marine and timber listings at CoP16 and CoP17 represent a dramatic and positive shift in the use of this pragmatic and effective Convention in preventing the over-exploitation of commercially taken marine and forest species of wild animals and plants.

Several other species, and most notably all eight species of pangolins, were given added protection under CITES through Appendix I listing and many other species, including the cheetah, elephant, helmeted hornbill, tigers, totoaba (and vaquita), and rhino were the subject of specific decisions on improved conservation and management, and enhanced and well-targeted enforcement action and demand reduction strategies.

Concerning African lions, for the first time a dedicated set of measures was agreed to improve the effectiveness of lion conservation and management throughout its range, coupled with the first ever global ban on commercial trade in wild taken lion bones, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth.

A brief snapshot of CoP17 does not do justice to the many lesser known but equally important species that were brought under CITES trade controls for the first time, such as the nautilus and Grandidier’s baobab tree, or the many amphibians and reptiles, such as alligator lizards, the psychedelic rock gecko, the Chinese crocodile lizard, the Titicaca water frog, and the tomato frog, species often unsustainably exploited for the pet trade.

In Johannesburg, for the first time, the voices of rural communities and the youth were amplified by bringing them right to the heart of the meeting, which was a defining feature of CoP17 in Johannesburg. Decisions were taken by CoP17 on determining a way forward on how such voices can be better heard in CITES processes, which will be further considered at CoP18 to be held in Sri Lanka in 2019.

2 - Can you tell us what are the prohibitions about rhino horns and elephant ivory?

Efforts to open up legal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn were rejected at CoP17, stronger decisions were taken to control domestic ivory markets, the National Ivory Action Plan process was put on a secure footing, and the process of developing a decision making mechanism for ivory trade was ended.

At the same time, efforts to add four populations of African elephants to Appendix I, which could have resulted in opening up ivory trade through Parties entering reservations against such an up-listing,  were also rejected closing the door on any prospect of opening up legal international trade in ivory through decisions taken at CoP17.

As such, following CoP17 all commercial trade in elephant ivory or rhino horn remains prohibited.

3 – According to you, how you make disappear the 4th most lucrative traffic in the world with poaching? We need more awareness to the public or prohibitions at government level?

The international community has a legally binding agreement responsible for regulating international trade in wild animals and plants, which also monitors and responds to both unsustainable and illegal wildlife trade, namely the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – CITES. CITES sets the international rules that the criminals try and evade and has been described in the first World Wildlife Crime Report released by UNODC last year as an agreement of remarkable scope and power.

Illicit trafficking in wildlife is taking place at an industrial scale driven by transnational organized criminal groups and is posing a real and immediate threat to some of our most precious wildlife. How do you fight transnational criminals?

CITES fights illegal trade in wildlife through partnering with the agencies that have the mandate, resources and expertise to tackle transnational organized criminal groups. In this context, in 2010 it created the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), an initiative of CITES, INTERPOL, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation to provide coordinated enforcement support to countries to fight these highly destructive crimes.

Great support for ICCWC was again expressed at CoP17, including on enhancing its efforts in working directly with countries to combat transnational organized crime as it affects wildlife, and in particular in deploying the same tools, techniques and penalties used to combat other serious crimes.

CITES CoP17 also adopted for the first time a dedicated Resolution on taking targeted measures to address the demand for illegally traded wildlife.

4 – Can you explain us what action has been put in place about corruption?

CoP17 CITES adopted the first ever dedicated Resolution on combating corruption as it affects illegal trade in wildlife. This Resolution calls for Parties to take enhanced measures to combat corruption, working with and through the UNODC and the UN Convention against Corruption and the organs and measures created under it to deal with corruption.

This Resolution follows the first dedicated side event held at a meeting of the UN Convention against Corruption in 2015 on wildlife and forest crime and corruption, co-chaired by the Executive Director of the UNODC, Yury Fedotov, and myself.

5 – The COP18 will take place in 2018 in Sri Lanka. Why don’t you organize a COP per year like the COP of the UNFCCC (CNUCC in French)?

More than 180 of the world’s nations are signatories to CITES, known as Parties, and they meet once every three years, and in 2016 they convened in Johannesburg, South Africa for CoP17, also known as the ‘World Wildlife Conference’.

The next CoP will be in three years’ time in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Between now and then the CITES Standing Committee and the two scientific committees will meet in 2017 and 2018. These committee meetings give the Parties time to deliver on the directions provided by CoP17 and three years gives a long enough period of time to measure the progress made.

Meeting as a full CoP once in every three years is more than often enough, given the cycle of committee meetings, and the importance of allowing a reasonable period of time to deliver on the outcomes of the CoP.

While we are still absorbing the full suite of far reaching decisions taken in Johannesburg, we are convinced that in years to come the decisions taken at CoP17 will be seen as a turning point in ensuring the survival of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife.

Time will tell whether this statement proves to be correct. For now, we will rapidly move to the implementation phase of our work as we look ahead to Colombo, Sri Lanka for CoP18 in 2019.