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Environmental protection and conservation


International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Established in 1948, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the oldest international conservation organization. It has approximately 1,300 member organizations, including States, NGOs, scientific institutions, and business associations. IUCN played a central part in the drafting and implementation of a number of international legal instruments, including CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It has official observer status with the UN, the only environmental organization to have such.

Arguably, the most significant product of IUCN is the Red List of Threatened Species , created in 1964, which assesses species and indicates those that are threatened with extinction. In 2019, the Red List contains over 96,500 species, more than 26,500 of which have been classified as threatened with extinction. The goal of the Red List is to identify species that require targeted recovery efforts and focus attention on key conservation sites and habitats, as well as 'guide and inform future conservation and funding priorities' (IUCN, 2019). By using data from multiple species, the Red List further provides a global index of changes in biodiversity (Vié et al, 2008). The Red List provides information about species' migratory ranges, habitats, population sizes, their use by humans, particular threats, as well as conservation actions.

The Red List assigns assessed species to one of eight categories, based on five criteria including population trends, size, and structure and geographic range (see further, Mace et al, 2008). These categories include 'Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Least Concern, and Data Deficient'. Species included in the 'Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable' categories are all classed as threatened with extinction. This includes 40 percent of listed amphibians, 33 percent of listed reef building corals, 25 percent of listed mammals, and 14 percent of listed birds (IUCN, 2019).

The Red List is different, and serves a different purpose, from the CITES Appendices. While species may, and often do, appear in both the Red List and the Appendices, the latter only includes species deemed to require CITES regulation due to trade. Species included in the Red List may not necessarily be affected by trade. Data from the Red List is often used to inform additions and changes to CITES' and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals' Appendices. It is also used as an indicator by the Convention on Biological Diversity to assess targets set out in the Convention's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (IUCN, 2019a).

Through its work on the Red List, other conservation efforts, and its substantial engagement with CITES, IUCN plays a significant international role in combatting wildlife trafficking. The CITES Secretariat has worked with IUCN in this field, with the two bodies undertaking a number of joint activities (CITES, 28 August 2015). This includes, for example, their collaboration on the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants and other Endangered Species (MIKES) project.

Example: Red-Headed Vulture (Sarcogyps Calvus)

The Red-Headed Vulture is a species of Old World vulture with populations across the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, and South East Asia. The vulture used to be widespread and abundant, but has suffered massive population declines in recent decades. Indian populations declined by 91 percent between the early 1990s and 2003, likely due to ingestion of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac, used to treat livestock. The vulture is rare in South East Asia, with threats mainly relating to accidental poisoning, capture for traditional medicine, and a lack of food sources. Due to continuing population decreases, with a total population now likely below 10,000 individuals, the Red-Headed Vulture is classified as Critically Endangered on the Red List.

(IUCN, 2017)

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Lion (Panthera leo)

The IUCN Red List categorizes lions (panthera leo) as “vulnerable”, indicating they are threatened with extinction. Lions can be found across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. The population is decreasing in numbers and it is estimated that less than 40,000 mature individuals are left in the wild. Lions are threatened, among others, by human intrusions, biological resource use and residential and commercial urban development. Use and international trade of lion products takes place in shape of handicrafts, medicine and sport hunting.

(IUCN, 2016)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Vanuatu, birds threatened by hunting

Several native birds in Vanuatu are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because they are threatened by illegal hunting and collection of their eggs.

This includes, for instance, the Vanuatu megapode (meaning ‘large feet’) (Megapodius layardi) which is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. Megapodes are large dark black-brown birds that can grow up to 34 cm. Their forehead and face are covered with bright red bare skin and they have yellow legs and large feet. The Vanuatu megapode lives on moist lowland forests. They can fly but spend most of their time on the forest floor scratching around for food. They can be found on most islands of Vanuatu but appear to be extinct on Tanna. Megapodes do not sit on their eggs but bury them in large nest mounds they build from soil, leaves, and organic matter in lowland forests. The fermenting vegetable matter warms their eggs. Section 4 of the Wild Bird (Protection) Act [Cap. 30] makes it unlawful to kill, wound, capture, or take the eggs of this bird during the ‘incubation’ period from 1 July to 31 March.

The Vanuatu imperial pigeon (Ducula bakeri, locally also called manutu or gwona) is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. These large pigeons grow to 40 cm and are dark grey in colour with a pale blue-grey head and purple-maroon breast. They have a long tail and long bill. These birds are only found in the large northern islands of Vanuatu. These include the Banks group, Santo, Maewo, Ambae, Pentecost, and Ambrym island in northern Vanuatu. The Vanuatu imperial pigeons prefer to live on hills and montane forests on elevations of 300 metres or more above sea level. These pigeons are shy, normally only heard and rarely seen.

The Santa Cruz ground pigeon (Gallicolumba santaecrucis) is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List and under section 2 of the Wild Bird (Protection) Act [Cap. 30] it is unlawful to kill, wound, capture, or take the eggs of this bird. These are small round birds that are only found in the Solomon Islands (Santa Cruz Islands) and on Santo in Vanuatu. They live in old growth forest at 300 to 1000m elevation. It is believed the Santa Cruz ground pigeon forages only on the ground but perches on low branches and roosts in trees. They prefer to escape from an intruder by running to hide in the undergrowth, rather than fly.

(Vanuatu Environmental Science Society, 2017)

Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage

The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , or World Heritage Convention for short, was adopted within the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972, thus predating CITES. As of January 2019, the World Heritage Convention had 193 States Parties. The Convention aims to establish 'an effective system of collective protection of the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value, organized on a permanent basis and in accordance with modern scientific methods' (preamble). In accordance with this aim, parties to the Convention may identify cultural and natural properties for protection, which are submitted to the World Heritage Committee for consideration and potential inclusion on the World Heritage List. For a site to be included on the World Heritage List it must be of 'outstanding universal value'. Outstanding universal value is determined according to criteria included in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. One relevant consideration (criterion (x)) is whether the site contains important significant natural habitats for threatened species. Importantly, some 60 percent of natural heritage sites are selected according to this criterion.

The World Heritage Committee maintains the List of World Heritage for sites that face 'serious and specific dangers such as the threat of disappearance' and which require operations for their conservation (Articles 8, 11(4), (11)). Inclusion on this list is intended to increase awareness of threats and encourage the adoption of countermeasures. The Convention further creates a framework for the financial management of domestic resources through the World Heritage Fund, which States Parties contribute to and from which they can draw assistance for protecting their cultural and natural heritage.

The World Heritage Convention does not protect particular species of plants and animals and does not mandate measures for protection and conservation. It only encourages States to protect their cultural and natural heritage. A number of measures that States Parties may take to this end are set out in Article 5, including, inter alia, legal and administrative measures to protect heritage. Nonetheless, the fact that a significant number of sites contain endangered plant and animal species, many of which are affected by wildlife trafficking and listed in CITES's Appendices, has prompted cooperation between the governing bodies of CITES and the World Heritage Convention.

Example: The world heritage site in Sumatra and the Sumatran Tiger

The Tropical Rainforest Heritage in Sumatra, Indonesia was listed in 2004 on the basis of its landscapes and the large number of animal species in the three national parks that comprise the site. Among other species, the site is home to about 10 percent of the world's population of Sumatran tigers (a critically endangered species). Due to poaching of Sumatran tigers, as well as harvesting of other animal species and agricultural encroachment and construction, the site was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2011. If the tiger disappears from the Sumatran World Heritage Site it will put key habitats and ecosystems at risk and reduce incentives to better protect the site.

(WWF, 2017)

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: A World Heritage Site threatened by Forest Crime

The Rainforests of the Atsinanana in northern Madagascar consists of six national parks, where around 80 per cent of all wildlife is unique to the World Heritage site. Inside the area, one can find 12,000 endemic plants, including rosewood and different species of ebony. Illegal logging of these trees has been a significant threat to the Atsinanana Rainforests, with logging rates peaking as high as 200 to 300 m³ per day in two of the national parks. Madagascar imposed a complete ban on logging in 2006, followed by an export embargo four years later. Yet, it is estimated that around 350,000 trees were logged in subsequent years until 2015. CITES banned rosewood exports from Madagascar in 2013 by listing all Malagasy rosewood populations in CITES Appendix II with a zero export quota. Despite these efforts, rosewood continues to reach destination markets. According to estimates, China receives around 95% of all illegal logs. These estimates suggest that, during the three following years of CITES ban on Malagasy rosewood, China received rosewood valued at USD 1.25 billion from the country.

Illegal logging has caused a rapid degradation of Malagasy forests and opened the once inaccessible forest up to intruders, which led to increasing poaching incidents of endemic species such as lemurs. Deforestation further resulted in soil erosion and mudslides which negatively impacted local water quality and increased the threat of flooding. Consequently, illegal logging and trade in rosewood degrades the outstanding universal value of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.

(WWF, 2017)

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) was opened for signature in June 1979 and entered into force in November 1983. As of 1 June 2019, it had 128 State Parties.

The fundamental principles of the Convention, outlined in Article II, acknowledge the importance of migratory species and call on States Parties to, individually or in cooperation, take steps to conserve such species and their habitats. Article II emphasizes the need 'to take action to avoid any migratory species becoming endangered'. To these ends, the Convention 'lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range'. Migratory species are defined as

the entire population or any geographically separate part of the population of any species or lower taxon of wild animals, a significant proportion of whose members cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundaries (Article I(1)(a)).

Species' range includes 'all the areas of land or water that a migratory species inhabits, stays in temporarily, crosses or overflies at any time on its normal migration route' (Article I(1)(f)).

Similar to CITES, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals approaches the protection of certain species by listing them in two Appendices. Species listed in Appendix I are endangered throughout all or a substantial part of their migratory range. Strict obligations are placed on States Parties that are range states in relation to Appendix I-listed species (Article III). These include requirements to conserve and restore the habitats of such species, remove impediments to their migrations, and to prohibit the taking of animals belonging to such species (Article III(4), (5)). Appendix I-listed animals may only be taken for a limited number of purposes, including scientific purposes, enhancing survival of the species, and for the needs of traditional subsistence users (Article III(5)).

Species listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals have an 'unfavourable conservation status and … require international agreements for their conservation and management', or would otherwise benefit from international cooperation (Article IV(1)). The Convention does not place any direct obligations on States Parties in relation to Appendix II-listed species. Instead, the Convention states that States Parties that are range states shall endeavour to conclude agreements 'where these would benefit the species and should give priority to those species in an unfavourable conservation status' (Article IV(3)). Importantly, agreements may include States that are not parties to the Convention and are separate instruments. As of July 2019, seven agreements have been concluded under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Many species covered by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals are affected by wildlife trafficking. One example is the Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia), listed in Appendix I, of which more than 40 percent may have been poached for their pelts (CMS & UNEP, [undated]). While the Convention provisions do not specifically address wildlife trafficking, its administration has devoted increasing attention to the issue. Of particular relevance are resolutions of its Conference of the Parties, such as the Resolution on the Prevention of Illegal Killing, Taking and Trade of Migratory Birds, as well as the establishment of a CMS-CITES Joint Work Programme 2015-2020.

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Pacific Islands and the Dugong MoU

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) is supplemented by several Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) which set out conservation, management, and/or restoration measures for particular migratory species. One such MoU concerns dugongs (sometimes called sea cows) and their habitats. The Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (the Dugong MOU) aims to promote internationally coordinated actions to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range. The MOU entered into effect on 31 October 2007 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Of the Pacific Islands States, the Dugong MoU has been signed by New Caledonia (France), Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu and these jurisdictions submit annual reports about the implementation of the MoU, which are accessible online.

The dugong (Dugong dugon), or sea cow, is the only herbivorous marine mammal, and the only member of the family Dugongidae. Throughout its range, which extends across over 40 countries throughout tropical and subtropical coastal waters from East Africa to the Pacific Islands, the dugong plays an important role in the culture of many coastal communities. Dugongs grow slowly, mature late, and have lengthy reproductive cycles; this makes them highly vulnerable to both chronic and acute threats. For food, dugongs are dependent upon seagrasses which are restricted to shallow coastal waters where the seabed receives enough light for photosynthesis to occur. Dugongs are classified as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, indicating that there is high-risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. The CMS lists the dugong in its Appendix II, which means that international cooperative activities across jurisdictional boundaries within the dugong’s migratory range are essential for the dugong’s long-term survival. Dugongs are known to migrate and disperse over vast distances; as such their survival is dependent on their conservation and management over a wide area and in a wide range of marine and coastal habitats. Human activities that may threaten dugong populations directly or indirectly include destruction or modification of habitat, coastal development, pollution, fishing activities, vessel strikes, unsustainable hunting, uncontrolled mariculture, tourism, and illegal activities such as poaching.

Many of the dugong’s range countries are Pacific Islands are 'Least Developed Countries' where levels of poverty are high and rural coastal communities depend on natural resources for their survival and livelihoods. Both the incidental and deliberate capture of dugongs in artisanal fisheries is one of the most serious and widespread threats to the dugong’s survival. Although dugongs may be caught in a range of different net types, capture in gill nets (vertically hung nets so that the fish get trapped in it by their gills) is the most significant problem. Lack of alternative livelihood options for rural coastal communities in Least Developed Countries often results in the over-exploitation of marine resources and subsequent use of destructive harvesting practices as fishery catches diminish, ultimately damaging the marine ecosystems upon which these communities depend. A conservation management plan annexed to the Dugong MoU sets out the objectives to address the conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats. This includes, among other things, enhanced community-based stewardship at key sites for dugongs, replacement of destructive fisheries practices with environmentally sustainable practices, increasing the availability of critical knowledge for conservation action for dugongs and seagrasses, and mainstreaming dugong and seagrass conservation priorities into national and regional policies and planning. (UNEP/CMS Secretariat, 2022)

One example is the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project in Vanuatu, where dugongs are traditionally hunted for their meat and oil and other parts are sometimes used in handicraft products. As in other places, dugongs in Vanuatu are threatened by targeted hunting, incidental by-catch, boat strikes, and excessive tourist interaction. In the past, customary seasonal hunting restrictions known as ‘tabu’ were imposed by locals to protect dugongs and ensure sustainable use of natural resources. Since 2010, legal reforms, along with practical measures, have been adopted to gather data, inform policy work, and enable targeted interventions to protect dugongs. A national committee has been established to bring together governmental and non-governmental organizations and the private sector in dugong and seagrass conservation. The Project seeks to raise the awareness among and garner support for the National Plan for Conservation of Dugongs and their Seagrass Habitats.

(Dugong & Seagrass Conservation Project, 2022)

Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity was opened for signature in 1992 and, as of January 2019, has 196 States Parties. As stated in Article 1 of the Convention, its purpose is to conserve biological diversity through sustainable use of its components and fair, equitable sharing of the benefits from use of genetic resources. Biodiversity is defined by the Convention as

the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part: this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is the first and principal treaty addressing biodiversity and covers a broad range of subject matter, including, inter alia, deforestation, access to biotechnology, and managing fragile ecosystems. The Convention is 'concerned primarily with the management of national development choices that impact directly upon national resources' (Swanson, 1999, p. 308). To this end, it requires States Parties to take various measures to promote biological diversity, such as establishing parks and protected areas (Article 8), developing national strategies, plans or programmes (Article 6), and adopting measures for the recovery and rehabilitation of threatened species (Article 9).

Importantly, the Convention emphasizes in situ conservation, defined in Article 2 as

the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

The Convention asks States to take numerous measures related to in situ conservation that, naturally, includes the protection of endangered species subject to wildlife trafficking. In particular, Article 8 requires States Parties, inter alia, to 'as far as possible and as appropriate'

  • 'promote the protection of ecosystems and natural habitats, and the maintenance of viable populations of species';
  • 'legislate for the protection of threatened species and populations'; and
  • 'regulate activities determined to have significant adverse effect on biodiversity'.

These measures may encompass actions to prevent and combat the trafficking of wildlife, including implementation of CITES. The need for cooperation between the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES has been recognized by the administrative bodies of both instruments. In a Resolution at its 16 th conference, the CITES Conference of the Parties recommended that States strengthen their coordination with the focal points of the Convention of Biological Diversity to enhance implementation of CITES.

While it has a wide ambit and some relevance to combating wildlife trafficking, the Convention on Biological Diversity generally avoids imposing any concrete obligations on States; indeed it has been criticized for having little practical effect. Unlike CITES, the Convention on Biological Diversity

does not protect particular species and, unlike the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, it does not protect particular places or areas. While the Convention on Biological Diversity advocates the protection of natural habitats, it does not contain specific measures to achieve this end' (UNODC, 2012, p. 19).

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Fiji, CBD reports

Article 26 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) requires States Parties to ‘present reports to the Conference of the Parties on measures which have been taken for the implementation of the Convention and their effectiveness in meeting its objectives.’ In September 2020, Fiji’s Ministry of Environment, the focal point of the Fiji Government to the CBD, presented its sixth national report for activities and achievements for the period 2014 to 2020. National targets are set out in Fiji’s National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP). The report highlights some of the challenges associated with wildlife crime, including the illegal trade of endangered and threated species and IUU fishing. To better respond to illegal trade, Standard Operating Procedures have been put in place. Much of the illegal trade involves iguanas and in 2020 the Ministry of Environment launched an ‘iguana policy’ for the protection of native species and to guide the Ministry’s work. (Fiji Ministry of Environment, 2020)

By 2020 Fiji had committed to protecting at least 17% of its terrestrial area (Aichi Biodiversity Target 11). However by 2021 only 5.4% of the total terrestrial area was under the protected areas (PAs) network. Fiji does not have any dedicated legislation on the establishment and management of terrestrial PAs. The existing PAs have been established under various statutes and vary in terms of their extent and potential for conservation. Moreover there is a strong lack of inter-agency coordination on the implementation, monitoring and enforcement of Fiji’s PAs.

(SAMBIO, 2022; Aichi Biodiversity Country Dossier, 2021)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Tonga, Biodiversity Facts

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) operates a useful website with profiles of all Members States. These profiles set out the main ‘biodiversity facts’ of each State along with the ‘main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity’ and measures to enhance the implementation of the Convention. For example, the country profile for Tonga notes that Tonga’s flora includes 419 fern and angiosperm species. There are also 20 species of terrestrial and sea birds, two of which are endemic to Tonga and near-threatened, such as the Tongan Whistler (Pachycephala jacquinoti) and Polynesian Megapode (Megapodius pritchardii). There are more than 100,000 Sooty Terns (a seabird) and, according to the latest survey conducted in Late and Fonualei Islands in September 2013, the Polynesian Megapode continues to survive in good numbers on Fonualei but was not located on Late. The volcanic islands of Late and Tofua have some of the best remaining high diversity native forest and still support large populations of birds and reptiles.

Pressures on Tonga’s biodiversity include, among others, the lack of and/or absence of management plans for the conservation and protection of endemic species; uncontrolled and illegal harvesting of resources; encroachment; invasive species; the use of pesticide and fertilizer in agriculture; pollution and eutrophication. Also, with an increase in climate change impacts, there is a correspondent increase in the frequency of occurrence and intensity of natural disasters, such as cyclones and tsunami. Commercial farming and heavy mechanization threaten forest ecosystem conservation. The main threats to lagoons are nutrients which drift down to the lagoon from agricultural lands and expansion of developments and urban areas to lagoon perimeters resulting in the degradation of mangrove strips. Unsustainable stripping of mangroves for tannins (a pigment that is used to make dyes) for tapa making (a barkcloth) and medicine, and for firewood and building materials, pose additional threats to the remaining mangroves in Tonga. Additionally, overexploitation of the inshore fisheries compared to the last decade has been recorded. Destructive fishing activities, such as dynamite fishing, fish poisoning and using hookah and exploitative forms of scuba diving are still ongoing even though they are illegal practices under Tonga’s Fisheries Management Act 2002.

(Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, 2022)

Regional agreements

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Convention for the Protection of Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region (1986)

The Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region (1986) (also known as the SPREP Convention or Noumea Convention), along with its two additional Protocols, entered into force in 1990. The Convention is a comprehensive umbrella agreement for the protection, management and development of the marine and coastal environment of the South Pacific Region, and represents the legal framework of the Action Plan for managing the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific adopted in 1982 on behalf of the South Pacific Conference on Human Environment. Under Article 14 on ‘specially protected areas and protection of wild flora and fauna’:

The Parties shall, individually or jointly, take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems and depleted, threatened or endangered flora and fauna as well as their habitat in the Convention Area. To this end, the Parties shall, as appropriate, establish protected areas, such as parks and reserves, and prohibit or regulate any activity likely to have adverse effects on the species, ecosystems or biological processes that such areas are designed to protect. The establishment of such areas shall not affect the rights of other Parties or third States under international law. In addition, the Parties shall exchange information concerning the administration and management of such areas.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is, among other things, the Secretariat for the Noumea Convention. In this capacity, the SPREP organises the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, receives and disseminates communication from and between States Parties, and assists in the implementation of decisions made by the Conference of the Parties. Furthermore, the SPREP issues a range of useful publications concerning island and ocean ecosysystem, environmental governance, and climate change resilience.

For further information, visit
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