Because migratory species by definition cross national, regional, and even continental boundaries, the CMS has pioneered a framework that supports global cooperation - the kind that is truly needed to address multifaceted global challenges like the biodiversity crisis.
The CMS ‘recognizes the local in the global,’ assuring that species conservation negotiated at multi-national fora remains in step with community priorities and needs on the ground.
Recent successes under the architecture of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and funded by the European Commission exemplify what can be achieved.
Lauren Anderson, IISD Tracking Progress Program, SDG Knowledge Hub Content Editor
With the Aichi Targets mostly unachieved and the world working to adopt a new framework for biodiversity conservation, the crisis of species loss continues. The 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment warned that humanity was losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, such that one million species could go extinct in the near future. In 2020, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) confirmed this trend, reporting to its thirteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 13) that 73% of its Appendix I-listed species and 48% of its Appendix II-listed species were in decline.
The loss of biodiversity and the ecosystems, both of which sustain humanity, is nothing short of an existential crisis. We must ask what countries can do to create better solutions to this complex problem and how can they build on successes once identified. What exactly is working?
Despite these recent assessments, the CMS offers some compelling and replicable examples. Because migratory species by definition cross national, regional, and even continental boundaries, the Convention has had no choice but to pioneer a framework that supports global cooperation – the kind that is truly needed to address multifaceted global challenges like the biodiversity crisis.
To do so, the Convention offers a platform where countries can work towards collective outcomes in ways that are tailored to their various contexts. This means recognizing the local in the global, assuring that species conservation negotiated at multi-national fora remains in step with community priorities and needs on the ground. Afterall, although migratory species are always in motion, wherever they are, they contribute to ecosystem health. They are an important part of the natural systems that assure food, fresh water, disaster risk reduction, and livelihoods for the people around the world who share their habitat.
Recent successes under the architecture of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and funded by the European Commission exemplify the kinds of results that are needed and that can be achieved. Decisions under AEWA leverage an intergovernmental process that allows countries faced with very different contexts to pursue the common goal of conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats. The Agreement is one of nine regional legally-binding instruments developed under the CMS framework. It covers 255 species of migratory waterbirds and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland, and the Canadian Archipelago.
The Northern Bald Ibis is one of the waterbirds listed under AEWA. The Ibis, once was revered as the spiritual guide of ancient Egypt’s pharaohs, is now critically endangered, having dwindled to a population of approximately 700 individuals living in the wild in Morocco. The bird’s decline owes to habitat and land-use changes, pesticide poisoning, human disturbance of nesting sites, and hunting. To save this iconic species, Member States came together to develop a Single Species Action Plan under the AEWA framework. With European Commission funding, implementation has been supported since 2020 to improve breeding conditions in Morocco and to explore the possibility of reintroducing the Ibis to Algeria – giving the Ibis another chance.
While the action supported for the Northern Bald Ibis recovery is focused on two countries, the work on the Slaty Egret, another example, targets regional cooperation. The main population of this rather shy bird is believed to be somewhere between 3,000-5,000 individuals living in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Smaller populations inhabit other wetlands in the transfrontier Kavango-Zambezi catchment, an area spanning five countries in Southern Africa. The Slaty Egret is the only globally threatened heron or egret on mainland Africa, and its declining conservation status owes to habitat conversion and the degradation and destruction of wetlands.
Under the umbrella of AEWA, and with European Commission funding, an action plan will be established.. This bird’s action plan will positively impact other species from other regions that migrate to these wetland habitats; and it will present opportunities for local communities to develop eco-tourism ventures and other participatory conservation actions to their socio-economic as well as environmental benefit. The improved health of wetlands that provide food, freshwater, and other eco-services, will give a definitive boost to local livelihoods and wellbeing.
Community level engagement is incredibly important to conservation success, and the action plan for the White-winged Flufftail is demonstrative. The Flufftail has a small and waning population across three sites in Ethiopia and South Africa. Its decline, at least at the Berga Floodplain breeding site in Ethiopia, owes mainly to unsustainable grassland use by local communities. With European Commission funding, an AEWA project is helping to designate the Berga Floodplain as a protected area, within which a community-based conservation programme will be implemented to ensure the involvement of the local communities in the management of the area. The project has offered a sustainable solution to directly address habitat destruction and provide a path for the long-term conservation of the Flufftail.
Countries also work together under the CMS umbrella on challenges that span continents. An excellent example is the Intergovernmental Task Force on Illegal Killing, Taking and Trade of Migratory Birds in the Mediterranean (MIKT). The task force brings together the countries of the Mediterranean with various other international stakeholders, experts, and organizations to stop the killing of protected birds (IKB), many of which migrate between Europe and Africa. MIKT has been working as a catalyst to gather information and understand the scope, scale of and motivations behind IKB, help coordinate actions and improve national legislation, enforcement and prosecution. The taskforce supports conservation across two continents and serves as a model that is now being replicated to stop the illegal killing and trapping of migratory birds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
While the CMS is negotiated and functions at the most complex levels of governance, its impacts are nothing if straightforward and as visible as the birds in the sky. Over the last two years of the pandemic, as humanity sheltered in place, migratory species assured the way of things – signaling the turn of the seasons and showing us that nature could and would solider on. As highlighted during the last World Migratory Bird Day, people have increasingly sought birds and their songs as beacons of hope and proof that nature will continue providing sustenance and security. Ultimately, beyond its mandate, these are the outcomes CMS is working to assure. [Conservation on the Move video]