An Untapped Potential: Wildlife NGOs and the CMS Family
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Wildlife Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have been part of the fabric and culture of CMS since the agreement was originally negotiated.

Since Germany enlisted the legal experts at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Environmental Law Centre[1] to produce a text that could be the basis for the negotiation of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), wildlife Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have been part of the fabric and culture of CMS.

By 1994, wildlife NGOs were being regularly referred to in CMS Conference of the Party (COP) Decisions, often with requests for support of the CMS work program. Thirty years of acknowledgements and expressions of intent are positive signals welcomed by the NGO community, though the intention has neither translated into routine, direct and systematic NGO involvement, nor are NGO contributions formally and routinely considered by the CMS Family.

Wildlife NGOs have demonstrated a considerable commitment to the CMS Family, and to the continuation of its work. The CMS Family has grown accustomed to informally using the services of NGOs for certain activities, but these services have been offered or asked for on an ad hoc basis and there has been little or no conscious or formalized acknowledgment of NGO contributions. Wildlife NGOs have come to feel that their commitment has not been matched, in their view, by an institutional commitment within the CMS Family to the steady assessment of implementation progress.

To discuss this emerging view, in the margins of CMS COP10, a ‘Civil Society Dialogue’ was held. The views expressed during the Dialogue indicated that an articulation of the current relationship between NGOs and CMS would be beneficial. It was apparent to those participating in the Dialogue that NGO commitments to the CMS Family were not well understood by CMS Parties and that NGOs could be more effective contributors if facilitated to do so[2].

A subsequent review process engaged widely with around 100 wildlife NGOs from all around the globe and sought to better define the existing relationship between NGOs and CMS in its present form in order to contribute to enhancing that relationship into the future. The sheer number of wildlife NGOs that participated in the review measures the intensity of NGO commitment to CMS. Wildlife NGOs want to see CMS flourish.

A Natural Affiliation

An early findings report was offered as an initial contribution to the CMS Strategic Plan 2015–2023 Working Group process and the final review, A Natural Affiliation[3] has been presented to CMS COP11.

A Natural Affiliation finds that NGOs have historically demonstrated a considerable commitment to the CMS Family, but the continuation of this commitment is being constantly weighed against commitments to other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

NGOs understand that involvement has a cycle; that they must commit to participate before and during CMS processes to raise the profile of species issues, such as threats, species conservation status, linkages to other MEAs, and the impacts of other decisions; and to influence these discussions and accords. They know that they may be needed for on-ground implementation support, and many of them prepare for this by developing close working relationships with governments as well as seeking funding to facilitate work before, during and after meetings.

At the same time, government budgets for environment issues are stretched. Wildlife-related MEAs are a low-order political priority. Government contributions to these MEAs are meagre compared to other international efforts such as trade, aid or humanitarian services. Many governments lack basic implementation budgets and necessary staff. MEA Secretariats can barely keep up with administration, and are without sufficient capacity to really progress implementation.

A series of initial recommendations were developed through the review process, and primary among these was the better involvement of NGOs in the activities of the CMS Family.

There is significant scope for NGOs to provide specific types of implementation activity, such as scientific, technical, practical, local, popular and capacity-related activities, especially where priority taxonomic or geographical gaps are identified or capacity building is needed in developing regions. NGOs would welcome a more structured and systematic long-term approach to joint planning (and evaluation) so that they could better contribute to CMS implementation.

This will require NGOs to develop mechanisms to inform/report on their activities so that CMS can better profile their work; and so that CMS and CMS agreement Secretariats can systematically communicate the value of this work to their Parties and Signatories so that efforts made by NGOs are seen as relevant and respected. It is important that NGO contributions are codified and accepted as a contribution against an agreed plan, so that Parties or Signatories can recognize the value, and build this work more fully into the progression of the CMS agenda. At present, only a fraction of NGO CMS-related activities are reported into CMS processes.

Specifically, NGOs urge the CMS Family to consider: CMS convening a regular NGO forum; developing a dialogue to foster strong and lasting relationships between governments and NGOs that is focused on implementing conservation priorities decided by CMS; developing a mechanism to enable NGO funded or facilitated work to be formally and consistently reported across the CMS Family; codifying key advisory roles in the Scientific Council and inviting NGOs to fill these roles; exploring formalized models for NGO involvement in CMS processes; making processes, meetings and information more accessible through better use of web and communication technologies, including video conferencing; creating a formalized NGO-orientated role to act as a focal point for NGOs and help facilitate greater NGO participation; and reviewing the NGO Partner agreements to ensure there is reciprocal benefit.

NGOs also urge: improving utilization of the close cooperation that exists between many international and national NGOs; considering strategic engagement with the CMS agreement Partners to act as informal surrogates for regional representation on broader CMS issues; considering strategic engagement with local NGOs to provide capacity building expertise in key regions; and allowing national NGOs the same access to CMS processes as international NGOs (CMS Article VII, 9).

The challenge is to get to a point where NGO contributions to the work of CMS are recognized as implementation delivery. NGOs should be able, for example, to formally represent their own work and have that work accepted and acknowledged as a contribution.

Resolution

Responding directly to the findings and recommendations of A Natural Affiliation, the Resolution proposed by the Government of Ghana, Enhancing the Relationship Between the CMS Family and Civil Society[4] consciously provides a pathway for the NGOs’ community to consider options and opportunities for how NGOs might engage with the CMS Family in the future. These are captured in the style of last year’s Global Ministerial Environment Forum decision as:

  • Mechanisms to enable NGO facilitated work to be formally and consistently reported across the CMS Family;
  • Models for further NGO involvement in CMS processes such as Ramsar’s International Organization Partners; and
  • Modalities for further strategic engagement with NGOs to provide implementation and capacity building expertise in key regions.

The operative paragraphs are also designed to provide a process for NGO presentation of these options to the Standing Committee and CMS COP12.

Wildlife NGOs working with and around CMS have said that they can and will do more, if the work processes of the Convention expand to better include them. The deliberations at CMS COP11 will show how far it will be possible to move in this direction.


[1] R. Vagg, CMS Family Guide: The Encyclopaedia of the Convention (UNEP/CMS, 4th ed., 2011). http://www.cms.int/en/publication/cms-family-guide

[2] See Annex A in: M. Prideaux, A Natural Affiliation: Developing the Role of NGOs in the Convention on Migratory Species Family (Wild Migration, 2014). Information document submitted to the 11th Conference of the Parties to the CMS as UNEP/CMS/COP11/Inf.15. http://www.cms.int/en/document/natural-affiliation-0

[3] M. Prideaux, A Natural Affiliation: Developing the Role of NGOs in the Convention on Migratory Species Family (Wild Migration, 2014). Information document submitted to the 11th Conference of the Parties to the CMS as UNEP/CMS/COP11/Inf.15. http://www.cms.int/en/document/natural-affiliation-0

[4] CMS/Government of Ghana, Enhancing the Relationship Between the CMS Family and Civil Society (2014) document submitted to the 11th Conference of the Parties to the CMS as UNEP/CMS/COP11/Doc.21.3. http://www.cms.int/en/document/enhancing-relationship-between-cms-family-and-civil-society-renforcement-des-relations


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