Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa on outcomes of CITES CoP17

Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, Republic of South Africa

05 October 2016


Members of the Media,
Good Afternoon,

On behalf of the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency President Jacob Zuma and indeed on behalf of all South Africans I want to make use of this opportunity to thank each and every delegate for their role in making the Conference a success.

CITES COP17 came to an end with a magnificent closing ceremony last night. In the coming days much will be said in reflection on what we have achieved, on what has been said, and on the great debates that took place.

The truth is that the greatest triumph is that at this Conference we have truly heard the voices and heeded the calls of people from all walks of life, united in their commitment to species conservation.

Whether you were an independent delegate making your journey to South Africa from hundreds of thousands of miles away, or a representative of an indigenous people’s movement at the forefront of species conservation in your country, you have played a key role for which we as both hosts and as a Party to CITES are immensely grateful.

Our decision to host this Conference was informed by our intention to advance issues of sustainable use, community beneficiation, youth involvement and fighting illegal trade.

It was also an opportunity to showcase our successful conservation history and leadership in diverse models that we use in conservation management such as National Parks, Provincial conservation areas, game ranches and community parks. This was the first CITES COP to be held in Africa since 2000.

Over the past two weeks we have met, discussed, deliberated, agreed, and argued on some of the most critical issues facing the mainstream conservation movement today.

It was an often highly charged atmosphere. However we can say with pride that most times we were ultimately able to reach decisions by consensus.

This Conference was a victory for science-based decision-making in the interests of species conservation. 

As the Secretary-General of CITES Dr John Scanlon noted in his closing remarks yesterday, this was a Conference reflecting a multiplicity of views and positions, was conducted in the spirit of tolerance and mutual cooperation, and all delegates displayed an extraordinary spirit.

It is with pride that I am able to state that despite an extremely ambitious agenda, we have completed our work a day ahead of schedule.

Delegations have been burning the midnight oil night after night, battling to hammer out deals and reach consensus. The sheer magnitude of the matters under discussion and the number of species under consideration has necessitated an absolute, unwavering commitment to science-based decision making.

And yet we have prevailed, and here we are!

CITES COP17 was preceded this year by a number of significant events that had a bearing on the agenda of the meeting. 

Critical to these was the Ministerial Meeting, or Lekgotla as we would call it in South Africa, that deliberated on the nexus between CITES and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The outcomes of this Lekgotla were made available in Information Document 94, which is available on the CITES website.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As one of the first signatories to CITES, we weren’t just hosts of this Conference but also a Party, and therefore had a number or expectations that we are pleased to say were met.

Firstly, the outcome of the Conference was that proposals were considered based on the listing criteria and sound scientific information. An example of this was reflected in the decision made relating to the proposed uplisting of African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Appendix II to Appendix I.

It is important to understand that these populations do not meet the criteria to be listed in Appendix I. It is important for the credibility of the Convention to ensure that the criteria are consistently applied across all the taxa.

A population must meet specific criteria to be included in Appendix I of CITES and these include that the populations must be in decline or the populations must be small and fragmented. As you know, South Africa’s elephant population is still growing with a current population of more than 28 000 elephants. The populations of other SADC countries are also stable or increasing and therefore the criteria were not met.

Another outcome was the adoption of resolutions that will improve the common interpretation of the Convention or the application of its provisions.

I am happy to report that as a Party to CITES, South Africa is satisfied that our expectations have been met.

CITES COP 17 entrenched the role of CITES as the mechanism for regulating trade not an anti-trade movement. A clear message was sent that that responsible conservation management goes together with sustainable use and beneficiation; and that those that do well will be rewarded. What was also an important outcome was a recognition of the need to address the underlying causes of species loss being, Habitat Loss, poverty, human wildlife conflicts, lack of enforcement, governance and institutional challenges.

We are satisfied that Parties have agreed to measures and actions to be implemented within the mandate of the Convention to ensure legal international trade remains sustainable and illegal trade is eradicated.

Furthermore, Parties have agreed to recognise that people need to benefit from the sustainable utilisation of its natural resources, including from legal international trade.

With regards to South Africa’s own proposals, I am pleased to highlight all our proposals that have been agreed to:

  • having the Cape Mountain Zebra downlisted from Appendix I to Appendix II because it no longer meets the biological criteria for inclusion in Appendix I;
  • listing the Wild ginger on Appendix II to enable South Africa to regulate international trade more effectively and through the CITES provisions;
  • uplisting Temminck’s ground pangolinfrom Appendix II to Appendix I – in fact all 8 species of Pangolin have been uplisted.

There were also a number of other issues that attracted public and media attention; notably, the plight of African lions.

There was a proposal to uplist African Lion Populations from Appendix II to Appendix I.

Most SADC countries including South Africa did not support this proposal.

Negotiations on this issue led to an amended proposal that was adopted retaining all lion populations in Appendix II, but with a condition to restrict the trade in bone to captive breeding operations in South Africa – with national export quotas.

This means that South African Bone Trade can continue with government setting an annual quota.

This decision is better that the initial proposal to uplist lions to Appendix I. A decision was also adopted to support the conservation and management of lion in Africa.

The African lion populations of the SADC region have increased by 12% over the past 21 years.

Other populations outside SADC experienced a decline of more than 60% between 1993 and 2014.

In the KNP alone, the number of female lions increased by 42%  between 2005 and 2015. 67% of South Africa’s lions are well protected within national parks.

I would like to now highlight a number of important Resolutions relating to illegal trade in wildlife include the following:

  • A Resolution on prohibiting, preventing, detecting and countering corruption;
  • A Resolution aimed at addressing cyber crime.

Important Decisions that have been adopted include:

  • Decisions to address CITES and Livelihoods and engaging rural communities in CITES processes;
  • Decisions on the conservation and management of African grey parrot, including decisions to facilitate the registration of breeding operations (South Africa breeds significant numbers of African grey parrots);
  • Decisions on compliance and enforcement matters, including the development of guidelines for ivory stockpile management;
  • A decision on cycads (document submitted by South Africa) to collaborate on matters relating to illegal trade in cycads
  • Decisions relating to rhino matters, including missions to Vietnam and Mozambique by the CITES Secretariat to assist them in terms of activities to be implemented

It should be noted that the decisions of CITES COP17 come into force 90 days after adoption by the Conference of Parties.

We will work in collaboration with the CITES parties and stakeholders to implement the decisions taken at this CoP, among others a process to establish a quota for the export of lion bones from breeding operations to ensure it is sustainable; and to register captive breeders of African grey parrots in South Africa to enable these facilities to continue with commercial international trade.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been a long, difficult but ultimately successful two weeks. There can be no doubt that CITES COP17 has been a resounding success.

We had no choice but to make a success of this Conference, because we shoulder an immense responsibility to conserve our natural world on behalf of the citizens of our respective countries whose interests we represent.

As the late Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai also once said: “we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment - so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.”

Last but not least, I want to commend the media, both domestic and international, for devoting what we appreciate is scarce space on the news agenda to covering this very important Conference. Without your support and amplification of the work being done by CITES, we would not be able to take the message of species conservation to the people of the world.

I want to commend you for a job well done and encourage you to continue to prioritize natural resource protection on your pages and in your bulletins, as you have done in the past two weeks. The media are our valued partners in development and we have a responsibility to keep the citizens of the world abreast of the critical work CITES is doing.

I will leave my remarks at that and take questions from you all.

I thank you.

For media inquiries contact:
Albi Modise
Cell: +27 83 490 2871