SADC braces for tough CITES meeting . . . as COP 18 might be moved from Sri Lanka


Mpho Tebele & Emmanuel Koro, The Southern Times

Date Published

See link for photo.  

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states will have to make unavoidable and difficult choices to deal with the escalating controversy surrounding the conservation of their natural resources.

Some members of the bloc recently accused the West of ignoring their efforts to deal with the growing numbers of elephant population within their territories. Botswana recently hosted a heads of state summit from elephant range states in the region, who came out guns blazing over a ban on the trade in elephant products. 

The elephants summit in Kasane was attended by SADC Chairperson and Namibian President Hage Geingob, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The leaders deliberated on a common position on the ban on trade ivory ahead of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) to the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) scheduled for Colombo, Sri Lanka.

But it has emerged that there is unhappiness over the delay in setting a new date and perhaps a new venue for COP18. 

The Switzerland-based IWMC-World Conservation Trust (IWMC) and US-based Ivory Education Institute (IEI) have both written open letters to the chair of the CITES Standing Committee asking for an immediate decision on when and where the long-planned COP18 will be held. 

After the horrific Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo, the original meeting was postponed from its May 23 opening. Since then, the Secretary General, the Secretariat, and the chair of the CITES Standing Committee have been virtually silent on their plans for CoP18.

In two separate letters to the current chair of the CITES Standing Committee, Canada’s Carolina Caceres, the IWMC and IEI have both taken the position that CoP18 should not be held in Sri Lanka.

However, SADC member are continuing with their efforts to come up with a common position at COP18. According to a document from the SADC Secretariat, the member states have mandated the Gaborone based secretariat to, among other issues, advise and guide them on the management of the environment, natural resources and wildlife.

The document states that: “Recognising the importance of such regional negotiations, SADC Ministers responsible for the Environment and Natural Resources, Fisheries and Aquaculture and Tourism in their Joint Ministerial Meeting in November 2017 directed the SADC Secretariat to assist in developing a common position for CITES COP18, to be held from 23 May to 3 June 2019 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“The development of a SADC common position for CITES COP18 will consolidate member states consensus on major CITES issues and address potential conflicts of interest between member states, as well as improve transparency of voting thereby contributing to the conservation of natural resources across the SADC region.”

It says a SADC common position to CITES would further enable SADC member states to align policies and strategies for sustainable use of natural resources and the management of international trade in wild flora and fauna across the region.

The document reveals that the German International Cooperation (GIZ) has thrown its weight behind the region as it supports the SADC’s Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Directorate. This support is done through the SADC Programme on Transboundary Use and Protection of Natural Resources (TUPNR) to improve the implementation of SADC protocols and strategies for sustainable natural resource management by regional and national actors.

Among other things, the programme supports the coordination of a regional common position for Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). The document states that SADC was seeking consultants to further guide member states through the preparatory process leading to COP18 and facilitate the development of a common position document.

A recent UN report that found human pressure on animals and plants is threatening more than one million species with extinction betrays the growing concern over the delay in announcing the new dates

“I believe the 18th Conference of the Parties must be held soon if the nations of the world are to meet their responsibility to protect flora and fauna species in danger of extinction,” said Godfrey Harris, managing director of the Ivory Education Institute (IEA).

Observers say there are still serious security issues in Sri Lanka. The IWMC has suggested that the Standing Committee meet in urgent session in June to announce the new dates and venue for CoP18.

In two separate letters to the current chair of the CITES Standing Committee, Canada’s Carolina Caceres, the IWMC and IEI have both taken the position that CoP18 should not be held in Sri Lanka.

“The Secretariat should be requested to prepare available options – to the exclusion of Sri Lanka – for a CoP18 to be held within a period of six months between October 2019 and March 2020,“ said former CITES secretary general and IWMC president, Eugene Lapointe.

“The Secretariat should also be requested to develop procedures aimed at facilitating the changes in delegations and/or registrations, as well as other elements pertaining to the postponing of CoP18, affecting all participants.”

Mindful that the time to plan and organise a meeting of the size and complexity of a CITES Conference of the Parties is so short, Harris suggested that Caceres make a particular effort to encourage countries that have recently hosted a CoP to do so again.

“I have in mind South Africa, Thailand or Qatar as potential hosts with proven facilities and organisational capacity to accommodate CoP18,” said Harris.

In addition,  Harris urged Caceres to contact the CITES management authority in each member state to determine which parties might be willing to host CoP18 between October 10, 2019 and December 20, 2019 or between February 1, 2020 and April 3, 2020. This more precise span of dates, within the period suggested by IWMC, would avoid conflict with any major national or religious holiday.

“If there is anything that the observer group can do to support you and your fellow Standing Committee members in setting a new date and venue for CoP18, I would be happy to lead the way in my capacity as managing director of the Ivory Education Institute,” said Harris.

The two pro-sustainable use western NGOs note with concern that the ongoing terrorist threat and civil unrest in Sri Lanka after the Easter weekend bombings that killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds more were a clear signal that Sri Lanka was not a safe place to host CITES CoP18 in the near future.

The CITES Secretariat in a statement issued on 10 May 2019, stated: “The Secretariat continues to monitor the security situation in Colombo closely through the Sri Lankan authorities and the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.”

This suggests that the CITES Secretariat might have adopted a wait and see position, before announcing the new dates for CoP18. But observers say this is inconveniencing a number of governments and organisations anxious that important wild species management decisions be made in a sound manner.

Lapointe told Caceres, the Chairperson of the CITES Standing Committee, that he was fully aware that cancelling CoP18 in Colombo would constitute a serious financial blow to the government of Sri Lanka.

Upwards of 4000 delegates, observers, journalists, staff, suppliers and others were expected to converge for the COP18 in Colombo in June, before the terrorist bombing.