Global Wildlife Trade Agreement Marks 50th Anniversary

50 Groups Call for Renewed Ambition at CITES to Halt Biodiversity Loss

WASHINGTON— Fifty organizations from around the world are urging an ambitious response to the extinction crisis as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species turns 50 years old on Friday.

Known as CITES, the treaty was approved by nations in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1973. The convention regulates the global wildlife trade and is best known for the commercial ivory ban instituted in 1990 in response to the elephant poaching crisis.

Today’s letter to the CITES parties and CITES secretariat stresses the escalating role of exploitation, including trade, in driving species extinct. The groups’ letter calls for protecting wildlife through listings, robust science-based decision-making, and increased funding.

Championing CITES successes while detailing its failings, the letter also highlights the need for CITES to fulfill its mandate of international co-operation in protecting animals and plants against over-exploitation through international trade.

“CITES is one of the world’s most effective conservation treaties, but politics and profit-seeking are watering down its effectiveness,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Exploitation is a top driver of the extinction crisis, and CITES can shield animals and plants from its effects. But if we’re going to stop the fabric of life from unraveling, profits and politics have to take a back seat.”

CITES has 184 member countries and protects almost 40,000 species, and it was negotiated in parallel with the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which also turns 50 this year. In contrast to many international environmental agreements, CITES contains an enforcement mechanism allowing for sanctions for nations’ noncompliance with the convention.

“CITES has the punch we need to help save biodiversity and humankind, but CITES stakeholders need to take the gloves off and get ambitious about the fight ahead,” said Sanerib. “The window to fight extinction is closing but there’s still time to act. We got a glimmer of hope at the last CITES meeting when the global south helped lead the charge in regulating trade for around 500 species. Can CITES build on that momentum with a bold response to the biodiversity crisis?”

United Nations scientists have warned that the world stands to lose a million species if the international community continues with business as usual. Industrial activities — not evolutionary factors — are fueling species losses, with baseline extinction levels reaching 10 to 10,000 times the background rate. Mounting research documents the increasing threat of overexploitation of wildlife and the dire need to transition livelihoods from exploitation to restoration and research.

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