CITES: championing extinction?

Posted by Willie — 29 March 2010 at 5:11pm - Comments

I've tried several times to write a 'wrap-up' blog for this year's CITES meeting. But usually I end up just banging my head against the keyboard in despair.

This CITES meeting was a turning point – the governments in the room decided that they weren't there to restrict trade to protect species, but rather there to protect trade as best they could. Nowhere was that more evident than the marine proposals.

Sharks were shafted, corals crushed, and bluefin obliterated, as the assembled governments played politics, and wrung their hands earnestly over the adverse economic effects of actually protecting any of these endangered species. Conveniently ignoring the fact that it's their inability to restrain trade which endangered them in the first place...

Others have dissected this more eloquently and robustly than I can today. Charles Clover pulls no punches in The Times.

It's hard to look on this CITES meeting with anything but despair. Yes, it's great news for Kaiser’s newt. But a quick comparison shows that this species has a very limited range, and sells for up to £200 a specimen. Atlantic bluefin by comparison migrate over vast distances and can command over £100,000 each at auction (that's equivalent to 500 Kaiser’s newts). Can you spot any vested interests there?

Two aspects of the CITES meeting were particularly sickening. Firstly the last-minute reopening of the discussions on sharks, which meant that in the very last hour the one marine species that had been supported for listing, the poor porbeagle shark, was overturned. As with the other marine proposals, this was all done by secret ballot too. So much for transparency and accountability, huh?

Secondly it's been widely reported that not only was the government of Japan lobbying fervently on Atlantic bluefin, but they were actively serving up chunks of it to delegates and would-be allies. Is this in the spirit of the convention? Would this be okay if we were serving up Kaiser's newt sushi, polar bear canapés, or tiger sandwiches?

Literally sickening.

The upshot is, more than ever it's up to us to do what our governments have failed to do. We need to make the continued trade in endangered species like bluefin politically, socially, and morally unacceptable… and we need to remove the market that makes it so lucrative. Because our collective governments don’t seem up to the job.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, part of the Greenpeace UK biodiversity team. I work mostly on oceans and fishy issues.

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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