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Politics beats science at CITES

March 26, 2010 12:00 PM

Today Catherine Bearder MEP wrote a blog on the CITES meeting in Doha for the Guardian's Comment Is Free section. Please see the full text below:

This week is turning out to be very disappointing for conservationists. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met in Doha and once again the international community let an opportunity to do the right thing slip between its fingers. During the weeks preceding the meeting I added my voice to a chorus of others arguing science must take precedence to politics in Doha. If the world is sincere about protecting our endangered species we must be resolute in our undertaking. Credible rhetoric on the subject is useless if we succumb to outside interests at voting time.

There were four high-profile votes this week. In three of them scientific evidence lost the battle to human greed. Despite these species being threatened by extinction, the trades in polar bears, coral and blue fin tuna were deemed too important to ban. To sit on a plate of Sushi a single blue fin tuna can be worth up to €100,000 at the market place. It's regrettable that this short term gain has blinded people to the long-term peril facing this species. I wonder if traders will regret their avarice when the day comes on which the blue-fin tuna is extinct. Will they realise the folly of their ways, or simply adapt their trade and fish another species to extinction? Thanks to the CITES vote, we may soon find out.

One rare and welcome highlight from the CITES meeting was the decision to reject the proposal from Tanzania and Zambia for a one-off sale of their ivory stocks. Thankfully, the moratorium on the ivory trade was upheld. Being married to a zoologist, I spent many years living in southern Africa working on conservation projects. I saw firsthand the damaging effect that elephant poaching and the ivory trade has upon elephant populations. If the sale had been allowed it would have invigorated demand for ivory, and given a fig leaf of legitimacy to what is a grotesque trade in elephant body parts. I have campaigned strenuously over the last month to make sure people know about the devastating consequences of legalising the ivory trade. I have lobbied governments on the issue and started a petition that which received a great many signatures. I received letters from governments across Europe expressing their opposition to the proposal, but disappointingly, the British government wasn't one of them. There was a time when Labour beat the drum for animal welfare issues, but those days have long since passed. After thirteen years in power, money talks and vested interests triumph. Left to this lot, the elephants wouldn't stand a chance

I struggle to understand why, when science points to extinction, people still buy these species at restaurants and even clothes and jewellery shops. When will talk turn into real action? If CITES, which was set up to protect species from extinction, cannot do what's needed then what hope can our wildlife have? The elephants survived this meeting; I'm very disappointed we can't say the same for the other species.

Our society will need to adapt if we're to get serious about conservation measures. Industries that trade in endangered species will need to diversify, cultural traditions that exploit animals may have to be curbed, but when we're talking about the continuation of our planet's biodiversity, and the survival of some of its most important species, politics should always take second place to conservation.