NRDC is working to get better protection for polar bears at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (“CITES” or “the Convention”). For background on the Convention and what is at stake for polar bears, read my previous blog, here.
Two days into the conference, more details have emerged as to why one key player, the European Union, is currently opposing the US proposal to uplist polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I, which would ban the international commercial trade in polar bears.
There appear to be two main reasons for the EU’s lack of support. First, some countries in Europe are worried that greater protections for polar bears will unduly limit trophy hunting. This reasoning is flawed, as the US proposal would not ban trophy hunting. It merely provides an extra layer of protection to ensure that trophy hunts do not take place in overharvested populations. The second reason appears to be a bit of international petulance. Some EU countries are mad at the US for not moving fast enough on climate change and are taking out their frustration on this proposal – arguing that if the US really wants to help polar bears it should focus on climate change, not the international market for polar bear parts.
Unfortunately, the European Union’s current position against the US proposal disregards the wishes of Europeans as expressed by the European Parliament, which voted in favor of giving more protections to polar bears, and the initial position of the European Commission, which recommended support of the US proposal because of the polar bears’ perilous situation and the negative impact killing polar bears for international trade has on struggling populations.
But all is not lost with this block of 27 votes at CITES (while EU Member States have individual votes at CITES, the members all vote the same once the EU forms a common position). There are reportedly deep divisions among the ranks of the EU Member States on this proposal and we may yet have a chance to convince the EU that it must do more at this Conference of the Parties to protect polar bears. As we have heard from more than one EU Member State, "What's the point of coming to this conference if you're not willing to negotiate?" Indeed.