Three years ago, the international community rejected a ban on the international commercial trade in polar bear parts (skins, teeth, claws, skulls, etc.) in Doha, Qatar. Next week, at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, they will have a chance to correct that error.
CITES is the only international body that regulates trade in imperiled plants and animals. Pursuant to the convention, species that are threatened with extinction and affected by international trade are supposed to be listed on Appendix I – a listing that bars the international commercial trade in that species. So, how does that work for polar bears? Threatened with extinction? Yes. According to the best available science, polar bears will lose more than two-thirds of their population by 2050 and most of the remaining third may disappear by 2100 because of global warming. So yes, polar bears are threatened with extinction.
Affected by international trade? Yes. In Canada – the only country that allows the killing of polar bears to supply the international market – more than 400 polar bears are killed annually. In the past three years, these kills have taken place against a backdrop of skyrocketing prices and demand for polar bears. So yes, polar bears are affected by trade.
So, it’s a no brainer, right? Polar bears should be given the protections of an Appendix I listing, which would ensure that international trade is not contributing to the species decline. Well, not everyone’s excited about stopping the trade (did you see the part above about skyrocketing prices?). So, Canada is leading the charge against the US proposal to end the international trade in polar bear parts. And the decks stacked in Canada’s favor. To get a species listed on Appendix I, two-thirds of the countries voting at the convention have to support the proposal. Canada can then defeat the proposal by lining up a minority of countries. And surprisingly there may just be a minority of countries willing to let the international polar bear trade continue.
I’m packing my bags right now for the meeting and will be joining several of my NRDC colleagues in Thailand. We’ll be fighting to gain overwhelming support for the US proposal so we can end the profit driven international trade for polar bears once and for all. We expect the vote to take place on March 6, 2013.
Stay tuned for updates and, hopefully, good news.