Long days, plenty of meetings to attend and many documents to read – is how the CYNESA delegation at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES CoP17). This meeting also referred to as the World Wildlife Conference, started opened on the morning 24th of September, in Johannesburg, South Africa, coinciding with the Heritage Day, a public holiday observed to celebrate culture in South Africa. This was a wonderful backdrop to the commencement of CoP17, as wildlife is also part of our natural heritage.
The afternoon plenary then set out to create the framework for the meeting, by electing officials to oversee the conference, adopting the agenda and reviewing rules of procedure. By Sunday afternoon, these were concluded, amid some debate concerning voting rights, and the conference could now embark on the core substantive issues.
On Sunday, the CYNESA team was invited for Mass at St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church in Moletsane. Many in the congregation had turned up for Mass in colourful traditional clothing, in continuation of Heritage Day celebrations. The singing was lively-and not just the choir, but everyone in the congregation joined in wholeheartedly. Our team was warmly welcomed, by Fr. Sikhosiphi, OP and the congregation, and had the chance to introduce CYNESA’s mission in living Laudato Si’, as young Catholics in Africa.
As of day 3, Monday the 26th September, serious differences between African countries have emerged, especially on the issue of trade in elephant ivory. This already became apparent on Sunday afternoon, when the Minister of Environment from Zimbabwe, Hon. Oppah Muchinguri, unequivocally stated that her country together with Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland were in favour of being allowed to trade in ivory. “If others want to burn their ivory, then that is their choice, but we should be left to decide what to do with our own ivory”, said the minister, in an apparent reference to countries like Kenya, which have opted to destroy their own ivory stockpiles.
These differences carried on into Monday morning and afternoon, with the introduction of proposals on closure of domestic ivory markets, and another on discussing mechanisms for future trade in ivory and the ploughing back of income from such sales to conservation. After heated discussions, the chair of the committee put the matters to a vote, the result of which all proposals were defeated. This therefore means, no trade in ivory at the international level will be allowed.
CITES CoP17 is the largest in the history of the convention, with about 3500 delegates participating. It also has the largest number of proposals on the agenda. The Secretary General of the CITES, Dr. John Scanlon, described the CoP17 meeting as akin to a rugby match, intense and robust with players tackling hard, but respectful to each other in the end.
Listening to the deliberations that have taken place since, I have been wondering how many of the delegates have had a chance to read what Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, regarding biodiversity. In paragraph 33, the Holy Father reminds us that, “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.”
Hopefully in the next few days, the delegates gathered here will take into consideration, “a secure and happy future for future generations, by setting aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive for the common good”, as Pope Francis expressed in his address to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 2015.
Founding Executive Director, CYNESA.