Sharpening Swords at CITES 2010
The opening of the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES begins with an overwhelmingly load performance through the PA system of local Qatar men, chanting and beating drums, followed by two long speeches from Mr Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP, and the Secretary General of CITES, Mr Willem Wijnstekers. A somber air fills the massive hall, which seats the up to 1500 delegates representing 175 nations, including South Africa, plus indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and businesses. The serious tone of the speeches adds to the solemn atmosphere and it’s no wonder when given their content.
Both men stress that since biodiversity targets have not been met in 2010, the issues are more acute and urgent than before as biodiversity loss accelerates. They make pleas to parties to consider the importance of international cooperation and to put down their weapons of differences. Steiner goes as far as to remind the audience that CITES has historically been a battle ground of the parties, where he says as if in medieval times swords are sharpened, and issues are fought, dividing nations. “We need to ask ourselves whether the objectives of conservation and sustainable development are best served by this highly conflicting manner, which is characteristic of such conferences.” Steiner challenges.
I later learn that CITES is as much a playfield as a warfield, where countries play games with Nature, bartering one vote for another, or buying votes from developing countries with roads, bridges and the like (e.g. “vote against bluefin tuna and we will build you some schools”). I hear rumors that some even route for species to become extinct so their frozen stockpiles will increase in value. I’m not surprised to hear that at one of the most important conferences for the preservation of Nature, politics, greed, and stupidity rule. How arrogant to assume one can manipulate and move Nature across a chess board with the aim to win when humankind, a species intent on self destruction, will be the only stale mate in the end.
Back to money but this time the lack thereof for good use, Wijnstekers laments that budget constraints threaten the effectiveness of CITES: “ CITES will not be able to fully exploit its great potential and we seriously risk to let down not only the many animal an plant species we appear to attach such great importance to, but we also risk to let down the developing world in its struggle to conserve wildlife from the many threats it faces.” He adds: “The world is watching and we cannot afford to disappoint it.”
And what about Nature, the one this is all about, most importantly she is watching too, and we keep disappointing her when the extinction list grows longer every day. Pity we forget we are part of Nature, that being our greatest mistake.
Tomorrow I return to the battle field, but not before I sharpen my sword.