This year is the UN year of biodiversity and it brings endangered species into the spotlight. Finland’s Sirpa Pietikäinen leads a delegation of environment MEPs to Doha, Qatar, this weekend, where parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) gather. MEPs will push for a trade ban to save bluefin tuna and polar bears and a ban on the ivory trade. The former environment minister explains what is at stake.
What is at stake at the CITES Conference?
Number one is biodiversity, life’s support network, and its threat of extinction. This is the anniversary of biodiversity. Through human actions we have an increased loss of species, across the spectrum, from insects to mammals.
This is the background to CITES. Where there is trade, this trade – and the illicit trade – is fuelling a loss of species, in addition to what deforestation and climate change are already doing. The conference will look at a broad number of species, from sharks and tuna to polar bears, tigers and elephants.
EU supports banning the international trade of bluefin tuna. Is it enough to rescue the highly endangered species?
Tuna is a big indicator that the EU’s fishing policy, its monitoring and maintenance of the species is not sustainable – unfortunately. This is a matter which Parliament, Council and Commission must all address. If you believe the scientific assessments, tuna reproductive capacity will be lost in a few years.
If the reproductive stock is destroyed in a few years, the entire stock will be lost in less than a decade, and without stock, there are no fish to catch.
Some African countries want to allow trade in ivory. How does the EU/EP see this proposal?
Parliament’s position is not to agree, full stop. There’s been an increase in poaching and illegal trade. Elephants are migratory animals, they have long routes, and no one can speak of ‘our elephants’. Second, practical evidence shows that it would be a letter of invitation to poachers. It would also make it more difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal trade. The overall elephant stock is certainly not strong, although in some locales there may bed large herds.
The EU is one of the largest markets for endangered animals and plants. How can it combat this illegal trade and what can consumers do?
The consumer can simply check the origin before buying, and it is better not to buy ivory. Usually a consumer encounters these problems in a pet shop. We should be much more reserved about wild animals. It is very difficult for a consumer to know whether a frog or reptile was bred here or imported.
The Commission and the EU can intervene in the Internet trade where the legal and illegal blur. Secondly, illegal trade goes back to illegal catching. There are two ways to act: to increase resources in park controls and support businesses in cooperation and development projects, because illegal hunting and trade are often related to poverty. This is something that the EU should take into account in its development policy. Tackling sales here is much more difficult and limited.
Why is the EP sending a delegation to Doha, what role do MEPs have?
A big and interesting question, which we will hopefully return to in a brighter context! The world has changed permanently, after the Lisbon Treaty. The EP is now a full partner in deciding environmental issues and it has a right of veto over international treaties. As in the case of CITES, it will form an opinion, which will act as a kind of ring fence for negotiations.
The situation is certainly a new and challenging one for member states used to coordinating positions among themselves in negotiations. In practice? The SWIFT model is a bad way; namely first negotiating an agreement, and then the Parliament rejecting it. It’s better for EP representatives to be on site, involved in the negotiations, making sure that the EU position remains inside the fence.
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