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Minister of environmental affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, briefs foreign correspondents association on South Africa’s preparations for CITES CoP17

20 September 2016


Good morning members of the FCA

I would like to thank you for inviting me here this morning to brief you on our preparations for the meeting of the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17).

As you know, the World Wildlife Conference starts at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Saturday, 24 September 2016.  The Conference runs through 5 October 2016.

This is the fourth Conference of the Parties to CITES to be held on the African continent since 1975, and the first on the Continent since 2000.

I must say that I am immensely encouraged that the media have taken such an interest in the very important issue of the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora; and have devoted significant resources to covering this conference.

At a time of so many competing priorities on the news agenda, that many of you have been doing related stories in the build-up to the conference and some of you will be actually covering it, is very heartening.

As this conference is taking place, at the same time the United Nations General Assembly is meeting in New York. The theme of this year’s general debate is The Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world.’ As you will know, South Africa joined other nations of the world in December 2016 in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There are strong linkages between the 2030 Agenda and the issues that will come up at CITES COP17, particularly as these relate to sustainable utilization of natural resources.

Conservation of our natural resources is key to the common vision of People, Planet and Prosperity that is encapsulated in the SDG’s.

South Africa is a founding member of CITES.  The Convention was adopted on 3 March 1973, but only came into force on July 1, 1975. Today, 183 Parties are signatory to the Treaty, which has as its aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of listed wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild.

The Department of Environmental Affairs, the CITES Secretariat and the various Departments and entities serving on the Local Organising Committee have been working with the City of Johannesburg and the Sandton Convention Centre to ensure the successful hosting of the Conference. 

More than 120 documents will be considered during the Conference. Among these documents, 60 are proposals to amend the lists of species subject to CITES trade controls. This includes proposals submitted by South Africa.

The Conference will also deliberate on the role of CITES in securing the livelihoods of people living with wildlife and ensuring communities are considered in terms of interventions implemented in terms of the Convention. Other issues to be discussed include the legal and sustainable wildlife trade, measures to tackle illicit wildlife trafficking, and enhanced enforcement.

Controversial and thought-provoking topics, such as interventions to address the poaching of elephant; the proposed listing of elephant,  lion, rosewood species and sharks; as well as the illegal trade in rhino horn and pangolin, are probably the areas that will receive the most international and national attention.

African countries, through their participation in the Conference, have the potential to influence the negotiations. South Africa will support proposals and working documents that promote sustainable use of natural resources, provided they have a scientific basis and are aimed at securing the long term conservation of the species.

CITES CoP17 affords South Africa an opportunity to showcase our rich biodiversity and successful conservation initiatives based on sustainable use management practices. This has resulted in us becoming one of the leading conservation countries in the world today; having saved species such as the black and white rhino and elephant from near extinction in the past century.

South Africa’s commitment to conservation includes the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, which contributes to socio-economic development of poor and rural communities. These are priorities outlined in our National Development Plan (NDP).

Our country’s natural assets are an important contributor to our economy, food security and job creation.

In this regard, game farming, the hunting industry, eco-tourism and bioprospecting play a significant role.

I think it is important at this juncture to outline what our Constitution says about environmental protection. The South African Constitution underscores the need for balancing economic and other development goals with environmental sustainability. It affirms the right to an environment that is protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures.

These measures should, amongst others, promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, whilst at the same time promoting justifiable economic and social development.

It is an unfortunate reality that for centuries, natural resource protection often came at a great cost to our people. Not only were communities forced off their ancestral land in order for protected areas to be established, but our people were also denied meaningful participation in the natural resource economy. This is a legacy this government has been working tirelessly to redress.

We now have a National Biodiversity Economy Strategy that promotes community-based and community-owned initiatives that enhance conservation and socio-economic development.

There is also our successful People and Parks programme, born out of the need to support conservation of biodiversity in protected areas and at the same time promote socio-economic development within affected communities. Through this programme we are actively involved in restoring and maintaining natural ecosystems to stimulate rural economies; upgrading and developing new infrastructure in protected areas to boost tourism, developing commercial assets for communities living around protected areas; and supporting related industries.

I hope during question time to be able to elaborate further on our successes with this programme. The 7th People and Parks Conference is actually opening today and I hope to see some of you there.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We look forward to welcoming an estimated 3 500 delegates to CITES CoP17.  This not only includes Ministers and government representatives from the member countries, but also representatives from Inter-Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society and other stakeholders.

I thank you again for affording us this valuable opportunity and look forward to engage with you during question time.

For media inquiries contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871