The European Union and its Member States announced today (Thursday 7th March), at the 16th meeting of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that it was tabling a new proposal at the Convention to ensure that polar bears are not threatened by international trade.
“We need to ensure that improved and effective conserving measures are put in place for the polar bear,” said Mr Feargal Ó Coigligh, Head of the Irish Delegation, speaking on behalf of the EU. The EU Member States stressed that the diminution of sea ice, caused by global warming, was the main threat affecting the survival of polar bear, and that there were questions about the sustainability of hunting in areas where there is insufficient information or where populations are known to be declining.
In light of the pressures on the polar bear the EU is strongly of the view that more needs to be done for the polar bear within the CITES framework. The EU and its Member States are also very concerned to ensure a sustainable future for the culture and livelihoods of Inuit communities in the Arctic alongside that of vulnerable species, such as polar bears.
The EU proposal also responds to a proposal by the United States to effectively ban the international trade in polar bear. This proposed ban is not supported by all 5 countries where the bear is to be found.
We need to ensure that improved and effective conserving measures are put in place for the polar bear
In developing its proposals, the EU stressed that it had worked hard to reach agreement with the 5 polar bear countries. It is desirable that those countries who share management of threatened species should agree on common approaches under CITES, wherever possible. That is why the EU developed a set of alternative proposals for discussion with all polar bear countries.
The EU is convinced that its proposal offers a more responsive, science-based and more effective, way to address the concerns regarding trade in polar bears than a blanket trade ban.
The proposal by the EU and its Member States would mean that polar bear countries would have to:
- set sustainable export quotas for each subpopulation of the polar bear in the countries concerned,
- provide comprehensive information to CITES on the status of polar bear populations at local and regional level, and on the sustainability of their enforcement, management and trade regimes, and
- consider if a tagging system for polar bear hides would help to control illegal trade.
The CITES trade review mechanisms would also be tasked to investigate urgently how the polar bear States ensure that trade does not threaten the survival of the species. On that basis, recommendations relying on a thorough scientific assessment will be made to guarantee that trade only occurs if it is sustainable. Those recommendations may include stringent trade limitations if the information submitted by the States concerned is insufficient.
"An agreed response to the conservation of the polar bear is the one most likely to succeed," concluded Mr Ó Coigligh. "The EU has put forward this proposal in seeking to build that consensus. We believe that our approach deserves careful examination and we are open to constructive discussion on our suggested way forward."
Notes for editors:
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. They are listed in the three CITES Appendices. The species are grouped in the Appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade. They include some whole groups, such as primates, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sea turtles, parrots, corals, cacti and orchids. But in some cases only a subspecies or geographically separate population of a species (for example the population of just one country) is listed.
Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council and is speaking at the CITES CoP on behalf of the EU, its 27 Member States and Croatia (an accession State due to join the EU shortly).
There are currently 178 Parties to CITES.
Further information on the CITES convention can be found on their website.