CITES COP 16: Opening and Plenary, Happy 40th, CITES!

by [earth] guest blogger

The opening ceremony was quite a spectacle. To summarize very briefly and quite paraphrased:

Prince William: “We can reverse these trends. We can make a difference” (via video chat)

Oystein Stokersen (Chair of CITES Standing Committee): “Must involve communities dependent on resources being managed in a sustainable manner”

Achim Steiner (UNEP Executive Director): “It is easy to remain in the asipiration and to depend on others to do things that we cannot”

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CITES COP 16: Shark Press Conference

by [earth] guest blogger

This morning, the European Union held a press conference to discuss the marine proposals to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES)–recommendations to list a number of shark species and manta rays under Appendix II.

What is CITES? The primary goal of CITES is to regulate international wildlife trade of species and to protect them against over-exploitation for the purposes of future aesthetic, scientific, cultural, recreational, and economic use. Currently there are 178 Parties to CITES.

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Earth in Brackets is reporting from CITES COP16!

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Parties are coming together to discuss proposals on issues concerning transport of musical instruments (often made from rare woods), the international trade in timber, and  proposals on the statuses of sharks, rays, polar bears, turtles and tortoises, among other things.

“Trust Your Mexican” – Reflections on Mexico as Host of COP16

by Anjali Appadurai

The other day our delegation went to Puerto Morelos to meet with Doreen. Moises had the address and was leading us. We were unfamiliar with the area but we knew that her house number was #806. However, the street we were walking on had numbers starting at #10. We were convinced that we were going the wrong way even though Moises insisted that he knew where we were going. In the end, after some contention, we realized that he was indeed correct, and that the street numbers had inexplicably jumped from #15 to #796. We took away a lesson from that – or rather, Moises reminded us to “always trust your Mexican.”

Keeping this mantra in mind we entered the negotiations in Cancun. The Mexican government, as the president of this year’s COP, has the daunting task of facilitating agreement amongst a cacophony of voices from 192 countries, each with their own concerns, obligations and interests. I wondered, when I got here, about the role of the host country in these negotiations. Upon further investigation, I found out that the host country has the power to invite certain ministers of certain countries – ministers who they may believe to be more useful or compliant than others in the negotiating process. It also leaked that some ministers were invited early (this past weekend as opposed to Tuesday when they would normally arrive for the High Level Segment) for a “dinner” with the COP president Patricia Espinosa. With rising scepticism I also heard reports of “green room” meetings where certain delegates are invited to draft statements that are then later floated in the plenary session, taking countries who were not involved in the process by surprise. Such backroom deals are not considered legally appropriate, since they infringe on a country’s sovereign right to be represented by no one without giving permission. For select countries to draft papers without the input of all countries who would be affected goes against the principle of sovereignty (and in my opinion, morality – but morality seems to lie outside the realm of international climate politics).

In Saturday’s stocktaking plenary session, the G77 gave a very strong statement on the process that they wanted to see in the upcoming week of negotiations. From what I had heard of the process in Copenhagen last year, there had been a lot of backroom deals, select groups of countries making decisions, and a surprise last-minute text floated by the Dutch government at 3am one morning in the plenary session. The G77 on Saturday was adamant that there would be a more transparent and fairer process this year. The plenary ran two hours late that day, and a last-minute stocktaking plenary for the CMP was scheduled for Sunday morning. It was clear in Saturday’s plenary that Espinosa (the president) had been backed into a corner and exposed for trying to influence the process of negotiations by fabricating meetings with select countries (The Phillipines politely mentioned that their minister was present but hadn’t seemed to receive an invitation to the dinner with Espinosa – they were sure it was a mistake but could she please look into it? That made some people chuckle). On Sunday morning, however, she was ready with a statement that she read out loud in English, promising a “commitment by all to transparency and inclusiveness.” In her cautiously crafted statement, she promised that the ministers who have recently arrived will “not be expected to draft compromise language, but [will] help identify where balance is to be found,” and that the ministers will “not convene informal sessions of any sort, but will instead approach every delegation they believe ought to be consulted at each specific moment and remain accessible to all.” This seemed reassuring at the time, especially when  Espinosa continued to say that she had paired up ministers – one developed country minister with one developing country minister – to work on specific issues such as finance, capacity building and mitigation. This would help to make the process more well-rounded and inclusive. Parts of Espinosa’s statement were very encouraging:

“As I stated yesterday, there will be no separate or parallel Ministerial process, no selective segmentation of issues, and no duplication of negotiations. The Mexican Presidency will help facilitate communication among ministers, through constant dialogue with all, with the Chairs, with the groups, and with individual delegations. We will also assist Ms. Mukahanana and Amb. Ashe [the chairs of the AWG-LCA and the AWG-KP, respectively] in their always capable coordination of the efforts within each group. Once again, I must state that there is no hidden text and no secret negotiations. The Mexican Presidency will continue to work with full transparency and according to established United Nations procedures.”

Of the aforementioned dinner with ministers, she wrote “Ministerial-level representatives from all over the world are already in Cancun. Yesterday I offered a welcoming dinner to them, in which no papers were distributed and no negotiations took place.” On the way out of the plenary, however, Doreen ran into the Chinese delegate present in the plenary, and he told her that he had just earlier received a text message with an invitation from the Mexican government to another green room discussion. It seems that the green room discussions are still taking place legally as “informal consultations,” but hopefully there will be more transparent outcomes from them now. Although it is unsettling that there can still be meetings of select countries, I consider Espinosa’s statement to be an encouraging first step.

It is with optimism and trepidation at once that we wait to see what will happen in the final week of negotiations here in Cancun. With the presidency of the COP outlining a more transparent process and major groups like the G77 at the ready to defend this process, we can hope that the negotiations will proceed smoothly and without much corruption. As observers in this process, all we may do at this point is “trust our Mexican.”

Patricia Espinosa, President of COP16/CMP6

The need for radicalism to make meaningful change

by Moisés Flores Baca

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a side event organized by the Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust (COAST trust) titled “Rights for climate induced forced migrants: Responsibility of international community”. Even though it was not among the best side events I have attended here at COP16 thus far -especially due to incompetent facilitation- there were many interesting ideas brought up that I feel the need to share with you. One of the panelists -a representative from Greenpeace- talked about the fact that the impacts of climate change are being felt right now in many parts of the globe. He agreed with the CIA’s statement that the biggest threat to national security and the rule of law is going to be scarcity of resources that can lead to conflict. To support this argument he brought the Darfur conflict onto the table, explaining that at the bottom of the genocide ongoing there, more than ideologies or political perspectives, there is a fight over scarce land and water.

The speaker then said that Darfur is not receiving as much international attention as it should because the conflict is happening in Africa, too far from the developed world for it to truly care. He then asked what would the developed world be doing if Sudan was just across the border -of the developed world-, say, between Canada and the US? He also wondered if the developed world would be caring more if Bangladesh or the small island states were neighbors to them. From here he moved into talking about how there seems to be certain disregard for the citizens of the developing world by the developed world, as though those human lives had less value. He added then that it would be interesting, to get an idea of how much human life from different nations is valued around the world, to look at the number of countries that citizens in the developing world require visas for to enter. This would show how welcome or unwelcome those citizens are, and thus, how much their lives are valued.

The panelist then moved into explaining what we can do to start making a difference for those disadvantaged ones because of geographic location. He said that talking is important, since keeping an ongoing communication allows us to share ideas and feelings, helping us unite forces while fighting for common goals. However, he added, talking alone will not get us anywhere, hence we have to engage ourselves on meaningful actions . But actions that are too tame might risk going unheard: movements that for the government merely mean being able to tick the “civil participation” check-box without having to really change things are not good enough. Thus, we have to become more radical and participate of peaceful civil disobedience, not only because that is the only way our political leaders might actually make the needed changes, but because not doing it now and getting the things we so desperately need now might mean civil bursts of violence in the future that would just worsen things. To prevent future violent action we should undertake peaceful civil disobedience now.

The rest of the side event revolved around the proposal by the COAST trust of a protocol under the UNFCCC that stipulates that the rights of those migrants that will be forced to move due to flooding, droughts, and other extreme happenings produced by climate change have to be guaranteed. That they will be welcomed by the developed countries, bearers of the biggest part of the responsibility for climate change, and helped to integrate into the economy and society of the receiver countries so they do not become marginalized.

While addressing the climate change problematic it is essential to bear in mind that human life has to be our top priority.