According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) -- the world's oldest and largest environmental network -- "Climate change is set to be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century: approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species are likely to be at increasingly high risk as global mean temperatures rise."
Many of these endangered species are traded internationally, which may also contribute to the species' decline. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) governs such trade and is supposed to ensure that it does not contribute to a species' extinction and that people are not profiting from trading in the most vulnerable species. To do its job, CITES has to understand threats to species and has to know how to incorporate such threats into its decision making.
But earlier this week, at a joint meeting of the CITES Animals Committee and Plants Committee (which I am attending), delegates failed to take steps to guarantee that climate change threats will be incorporated into CITES decision making, despite strong evidence that these threats are not being properly analyzed. While the delegates agreed that CITES has the flexibility to incorporate climate change science into its decision making, they refused to recommend that guidance be developed for the 175 member states on how climate change science should be considered when making decisions on protected species.
This is bad news for species facing the double threat of climate change and runaway trade.
For example, tropical fish, corals, and other marine species may experience population declines or range shifts due to changes in ocean circulation, ocean acidification, and warmer temperatures. Today, CITES makes critical decisions on species without ensuring that these impacts are considered.
But we don't have to sit back. We can double our efforts and bring this information to the table ourselves. If CITES won't take steps to ensure that climate change is addressed, we can raise the threat whenever it's critical.
And NRDC will continue to push CITES to develop guidance so that climate change is explicitly taken into account and will seek to have this issue reopened in the future.