The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals was a watershed in many respects.
The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP11), coinciding with the Convention’s 35th anniversary of being signed, was a watershed in many respects.
CMS now seems to have recaptured the attention of the media and governments and is gaining recognition as an effective conservation instrument, complementing CITES and CBD. In the world of complex environmental multilateralism, CMS is increasingly providing what governments are seeking, a practical, operational and implementable Convention. It was the first CMS COP to be held in Latin America, a region where there are still significant membership gaps. The Conference agenda attracted the interest of the press, radio and TV, and the boost to the Convention’s visibility through the greater media exposure was invaluable. Awareness of the Convention is important for attracting new members. Currently CMS has 120 Parties and from all accounts Brazil – as it announced at the COP – is well on the way to becoming 121.
It was also the first CMS COP to feature a High-level Segment with a Ministerial Panel discussing the merits of the ‘Rights of Nature’ and the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The two approaches have been portrayed as opposing philosophies, but the discussion showed that both are tools that could contribute to the international protection of wildlife and it was agreed that the dialogue should continue. The Rights of Nature is a relatively new concept and could add a new dimension to conservation policy complementing more conventional and orthodox approaches.
The COP resulted in three separate tranches of outcomes: decisions that will institutionally strengthen the Convention and the wider CMS Family both internally and in the context of multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) related to biodiversity; decisions aimed at tackling pressing conservation problems; and decisions to extend further the number of species listed in the Convention’s two Appendices.
Regarding the first, after fifteen years of contemplating possible solutions, Parties agreed to a more streamlined structure for the Convention’s Scientific Council. This will result in greater flexibility for convening meetings as the number of direct participants will be reduced from the current total of over 100 to a more manageable 24, while adding to the scope of drawing in fresh expertise with Parties continuing to have the right to nominate a Councillor. Parties also set up a process under the Standing Committee for considering a review mechanism to examine how effectively the Convention is being implemented and how Parties can be helped in meeting their obligations. The pilot scheme, which has seen a joint Information and Communications team serving CMS and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), is to be continued with view to assessing how synergies can be further developed across common services for the CMS Family. An analysis on the further common services and synergies will now be undertaken and presented at the CMS Standing Committee and AEWA Meeting of the Parties (MOP) for the consideration of next steps. A decision on synergies introduced by Switzerland – and which was passed in other COPs such as that of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – will look to strengthen the Liaison Group of Biodiversity-related Conventions (BLG) through enhanced coordination among the MEAs involved, especially with regard to access to Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding. And finally, a Strategic Plan was adopted. The Strategic Plan for Migratory Species is designed to be applicable beyond CMS and the CMS Family by adapting the Aichi Targets as appropriate. It thereby emphasizes the relevance of CMS to CBD and the other MEAs that have embraced the Aichi Targets in their own strategies. Implementation of CMS and CBD can therefore be harmonized more easily at both the international and national levels through tools such as the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAPs) and possible future work on UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On conservation, ambitious guidelines were adopted on poisoning, encouraging governments to legislate on lead shot and lead ammunition and to reduce the threat posed to birds in particular by certain veterinary pharmaceuticals. CMS also staked its claim to be a player in the fight against wildlife crime, alongside the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), INTERPOL and the World Customs Union. A strong stand was taken on the growing problem of marine debris and one of the keynote speakers at the opening ceremony was Boyan Slat, the founder of Ocean Cleanup, who is devising a method of removing the tons of plastic that are accumulating on the sea. That some animals are highly intelligent and live in complex social groups has been accepted for some time, but a ground-breaking innovation lay at the heart of the Resolution adopted that recognized cetacean “culture” as a factor to be taken into account in developing conservation policy. Parties also agreed to stop the live capture of cetaceans, and the Resolution adopted also places restrictions on transporting specimens through transit countries.
The new species to be included on the Convention’s Appendices were dominated by sharks, rays and sawfish and two countries took the opportunity provided by the COP to sign the CMS Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Migratory Sharks. Norway’s proposal to add the Polar Bear to Appendix II was unanimously supported by Parties determined to show that the Convention can provide added value beyond the existing mechanisms established by the five Range States of this iconic Arctic species. With climate change reducing the polar sea-ice, the Convention’s Scientific Council and its dedicated Working Group on climate change will be able to contribute its expertise to finding mitigation measures.
As soon as one COP ends, preparations start for the next, and the Secretariat is now gearing up to implement the programme agreed for the coming triennium, which will culminate at COP12 in the Philippines. One priority for the next three years will be to turn the greater interest shown in the work of CMS into tangible gains – higher membership – especially in the Americas and Southeast Asia – and more cooperative actions on the ground. Parties recognize that wildlife is facing unprecedented threats and accordingly adopted an ambitious programme of work, the implementation of which will require resources far in excess of the core budget agreed at the COP. Thus, another priority will be fund-raising, to ensure that the fine words can be translated into deeds. As they say, “it’s time for action.”