10 October 2014
How CITES is Taking Concrete Action for a World Living in Harmony with Nature: CITES’ Contribution to the UN Decade on Biodiversity
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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As we approach the mid-way point to the 2020 deadline to achieve our common set of biodiversity targets and strategies, it is an opportune moment to reflect...

As we approach the mid-way point to the 2020 deadline to achieve our common set of biodiversity targets and strategies, it is an opportune moment to reflect on how the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is contributing to: realizing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020); achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets; and celebrating the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity’s vision of a world living in harmony with nature[1].

At the First High Level Retreat Among Secretariats of Biodiversity-related Conventions (Château de Bossey, Switzerland, 2010)[2] it was agreed that the new Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Strategic Plan could provide a framework that was relevant for all the biodiversity-related conventions and organizations, and that it should be called a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity rather than the Strategic Plan for CBD. The original suggestion was made by the CITES Secretariat with the idea that this would enable the Plan to go beyond the CBD and to provide guidance for all biodiversity related conventions (CBD, CITES, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), Ramsar, World Heritage Convention (WHC) and International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and other UN bodies or stakeholders, taking into account their already-existing strategies related to biodiversity.

Achieving the Aichi Targets and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity objectives adopted by the CBD in Nagoya, Japan requires massive collective action at all levels, including across the family of biodiversity-related conventions. The Parties to CITES have embraced the Aichi Targets and the Strategic Plan through the CITES Strategic Vision to 2020, and the full implementation of CITES at the country level will be critical to achieving species-relevant targets[3].

By working on the conservation and sustainable use of over 35,000 species of animals and plants, CITES contributes in a very pragmatic way to every Aichi Target in the Strategic Plan, with the exception of Targets 13 and 16. This well focused species-based approach[4] makes CITES’ significant contributions to the UN Decade on Biodiversity measurable, verifiable and tangible.

In a broader perspective, the CITES Standing Committee undertook a revision of the CITES Strategic Vision[5] in 2011-2012 to take into account the Strategic Plan and its Aichi Targets, with the proposed amendments being adopted by consensus at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2013.

The core vision within the CITES Strategic Vision to 2020 states:

“Conserve biodiversity and contribute to its sustainable use by ensuring that no species of wild fauna or flora becomes or remains subject to unsustainable exploitation through international trade, thereby contributing to the significant reduction of the rate of biodiversity loss and making a significant contribution towards achieving the relevant Aichi Biodiversity Targets.”

And the agreed Objectives include:

The contribution of CITES to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the relevant Aichi Biodiversity Targets … is strengthened by ensuring that international trade in wild fauna and flora is conducted at sustainable levels[6].

These actions by CITES are aligned with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity’s vision of a world living in harmony with nature where, by 2050, biodiversity is valued and conserved. The UN General Assembly Resolution 68/205 on World Wildlife Day[7] recalled both the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and the UN Decade on Biodiversity when declaring 3 March (the date of adoption of CITES) as UN World Wildlife Day.

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its Aichi Targets have become an important reference point for CITES Parties in putting into context their day-to-day work of ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is legal, sustainable and traceable, and does not threaten their survival[8]. This in turn has guided the close collaboration established between CITES and the biodiversity-related conventions embracing species, habitat and ecosystem approaches and spanning a wide spectrum of activities and projects to ensure an integrated suite of actions on the ground and at a policy level.

Such cooperation touches on field work related to the sustainable use of wildlife and the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities. It links activities that involve protected species with protected areas management, combating illegal wildlife trade, bushmeat consumption, invasive species, migratory species[9], timber (and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation), fundraising and financing (including through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the harmonization of multilateral environment agreements’ (MEAs) data and information[10], and capacity building initiatives[11].

The CITES Secretariat is also taking advantage of the framework provided by the inclusive Strategic Plan on Biodiversity to use the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) as one of the key vehicles for achieving more coherence at the national level. Through its participation in several regional NBSAP workshops, the CITES Secretariat has sought to encourage and assist CITES authorities to contribute to the development, review, revision and implementation of NBSAPs[12]. The CITES Secretariat has also issued a Notification to all CITES Parties about how to participate in the NBSAP revision process[13].

With regard to the GEF, the CITES Secretariat worked with the GEF and CBD Secretariats, to “convey CITES priorities to the GEF for it to take them into account when developing the biodiversity strategy in GEF-6.” The Second objective of the GEF-6 Biodiversity Strategy (BD2) is to reduce threats to globally significant biodiversity. Programme 3, under this objective, is aimed at preventing the extinction of known threatened species under which, “GEF will support strengthening decision making processes including legislation and its implementation, strategic planning, and capacity of national agencies in Africa engaged in reducing poaching and illegal trade of tusks, horns and associated by-products.” This is a first for the GEF and a significant step supporting national authorities and local communities in the fight against this highly destructive illegal trade. It complements the work of the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC)[14].

The GEF will enhance anti-poaching work in Africa through a similar array of interventions at source sites for rhinoceros and elephants, as well as for other wildlife in Asia. This programme recognizes that “illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts is an emerging driver of biodiversity loss”, and that “poaching at the current scale undermines the rule of law and economy generally.” This work followed the CITES Secretary-General’s presentation to the GEF Council in November 2011[15] and the series of decisions taken at CITES CoP 16 in March 2013.

It is timely to highlight the innovative GEF initiative launched this week by the Environment Minister, Edna Molewa, in Pretoria, South Africa. This project, developed by the Government of South Africa with the assistance of CITES and submitted through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), aims to strengthen law enforcement capabilities to combat wildlife crime, with a specific focus on rhinoceros. UNEP will be the Implementing Agency and the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa will be the Executing Agency in partnership with SA Police Service, the University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL), SANParks, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the CITES Secretariat.

Such pragmatic collaboration among the biodiversity-related conventions, governments, other stakeholders and the primary global financial instrument for biodiversity is taking place in the context of the framework provided by the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. Perhaps taking actions such as these is the best way to celebrate the UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 as we work together towards a world living in harmony with nature.

John Scanlon, IEH, Geneva, 9 October 2014


CITES is both a conservation and sustainable use convention. It regulates commercial and non-commercial international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. CITES Parties combat illegal wildlife trade and ensure that wildlife trade is legal, sustainable and traceable, by using many mechanisms such as science-based non-detriment findings and legal acquisition findings.

With 180 Member States, CITES remains one of the world’s most powerful trade tools for biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of species of wild fauna and flora. CITES was signed in Washington DC, US on 3 March 1973. The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 3 March as World Wildlife Day.

Learn more about CITES by visiting www.cites.org or connecting to: www.facebook.com/CITES; www.twitter.com/citesconvention; www.youtube.com/citesvd; and www.flickr.com/cites.


[1] The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at its tenth meeting, adopted Decision X/8 which invited the United Nations General Assembly to consider declaring 2011-2020 the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. It also encouraged, in particular, the biodiversity conventions to encourage the full participation of their Parties, and all relevant organizations and stakeholders in the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity and their support for implementation of the Convention and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

[2] The summary of the retreat is available at: http://www.cbd.int/cooperation/doc/report-hlr-2010-09-01-en.pdf

[3] At CoP10, the CITES Secretariat spoke on behalf of four biodiversity-related conventions in expressing support for the adoption of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets and that it could represent a useful flexible framework relevant to all biodiversity-related conventions. It also spoke in support of inclusive NBSAPs that could address all biodiversity-related conventions, as relevant to a particular country.

[4] In the context of the role of each species in the ecosystems in which it occurs; see Article IV 3 of the CITES Convention text.

[5] Resolution Conf. 16.3: CITES Strategic Vision: 2008-2020

[6] Objective 3.4 of the CITES Strategic Vision

[7] Resolution 68/205: World Wildlife Day (A/RES/68/205)

[8] There are now well over 13 million trade transactions in the CITES Trade Data Base

[9] Collaboration between CITES and Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is well established and guided by Resolution Conf. 13.3 on Cooperation and synergy with the CMS and the 2002 MoU between the Secretariats.

[10] In particular, through InforMEA

[11] Decision 16.2 on Access to Global Environment Facility funding.

[12] Resolution 16.4 on Cooperation of CITES with other biodiversity-related conventions which Encourages Parties to consider further opportunities to strengthen the cooperation, coordination and synergies among the biodiversity-related conventions at all relevant levels; and Recommends that Parties further strengthen the cooperation, coordination and synergies among the focal points of the biodiversity-related conventions and other partners at the national level to enhance coherent national-level implementation of the Convention.

[13] Notification 2011/021 and the Guidelines

[14] ICCWC

[15] 41st GEF Council Meeting Statement

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