Raising Local Community Voices: CITES, Livelihoods and Sustainable Use
February 2014, Volume 12-1

When CITES was signed in 1973 in response to concerns about the threat posed by international trade to wild fauna and flora, the Treaty suffered from lack of awareness about the extent to which trade in wild resources contributes to the livelihoods of poor rural communities, and of the need to integrate the concerns of the rural poor into decision-making. While in the IUCN, CBD, FAO and others, these issues have long since been formally recognized and integrated into policy frameworks, CITES has lagged far behind this development.

In our paper we (1) trace CITES’ formal engagement with livelihoods, (2) review the livelihoods resolution adopted at the 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP16) in 2013, (3) examine debates around selected listing proposals at CoP16 with respect to livelihoods concerns and (4) provide some conclusions on implications of past developments and CITES CoP debates for the relevance of livelihoods to CITES’ future decision-making on species listings.

CITES explicitly recognizes the potential value of sustainable use to achieve positive conservation outcomes (e.g. RC 8.3 Rev. CoP. 14 on “Recognition of the benefits of trade in wildlife” and RC 13.2 Rev. CoP14 on “Sustainable use of biodiversity: Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines”), and sustainable use is often closely associated with local livelihoods. However, CITES has had great difficulty in incorporating the conservation-poverty/livelihoods issue explicitly into its regulatory and conceptual framework, according to which listing decisions at CoPs are aimed at increasing conservation benefits for target species. Only since amendment of RC 8.3 at CoP13 in 2004 has there been formal recognition of the need to take into account CITES’ impacts on rural livelihoods, limited to the implementation of species listings.

Advances on livelihoods within CITES have been achieved through adoption of a new Resolution on livelihoods at CoP16 in 2013 (RC 16.6). This includes recognition that CITES listing decisions can have both positive and negative impacts on livelihoods of the poor – while they can reduce illegal and unsustainable trade and safeguard resources for ongoing community use, they can also restrict income, employment and other resources for rural poor. The resolution sets out a series of considerations for Parties when addressing livelihood issues, including empowerment, mitigating negative listing impacts, enabling policies, the potentially negative impacts of ex-situ wildlife production, and mitigating strategies for human-wildlife conflicts. The new Resolution represents the most concrete recognition on the part of CITES of the importance of indigenous and traditional knowledge. In addition, the Guidelines and Toolkit accompanying the Resolution aim to assist Parties to take account of livelihood considerations in response to trade measures associated with listing decisions taken at CoPs. Neither the Resolution nor the accompanying Guidelines and Toolkit use binding language, however, but are offered as voluntary guidance for Parties.

The formal guidelines for listing species on the Appendices of CITES remain restricted to biological and trade criteria, largely ignoring socio-economic considerations (RC 9.24 Rev. CoP16). However, our examination of debates on a series of listing proposals at CoP16 (e.g. on polar bear, American crocodile, Thai crocodiles, sharks and rays) highlight the range and complexity of livelihood concerns raised in practice by Parties in relation to listing species. Livelihood considerations were invoked at CoP 16 as reasons to avoid up-listing to maintain livelihood benefits and incentives (e.g. polar bear), to up-list as a means to protect livelihoods from unsustainable/illegal use (e.g. some marine listings), and to down-list so as to generate enhanced social and economic value for local communities (American crocodile in Columbia). As with many Party interventions, respected NGO advice on listings (e.g. that of TRAFFIC) went well beyond the biological and trade criteria. Given the relevance of livelihoods to the conservation impacts of listing, we thus call into question the value of continuing to pay lip-service to the adequacy of the formal listing criteria, as well as questioning whether the current set of criteria are adequate to achieve real conservation benefits for many listing decisions taken by the Parties.

We argue that the current framework to guide Parties on CoP listing proposals effectively precludes consideration of the likely conservation benefits of listing decisions. Furthermore, the formal exclusion of socio-economic considerations in the listing process contrasts with many Parties’ stated commitments to reduce poverty and to recognize the link between poverty and use of natural resources. We suggest that what some Parties articulated at CoP16 calls for listing criteria that provide a more inclusive set of principles as a basis for listing decisions and a framework to assess the likely conservation benefit of a listing decision. We also discuss important information and communication deficits associated with sustainable use and livelihoods, and suggest potential for improvements, including greater participation of community representatives at CITES Conferences of the Parties. In an era in which the conservation movement is taking its human rights obligations seriously  through the articulation and practice of rights-based conservation, and in order to improve on-the-ground conservation benefits, we require new mechanisms to ensure that the interests and perspectives of indigenous and local communities are more effectively integrated into CITES’ decision-making.

Authors and source:

Max Abensperg-Traun, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Dept. Species Conservation and National Parks, CITES Management Authority, Vienna, Austria, and

Dr Rosie Cooney, IUCN / Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, 17 Sunnyside Avenue, Wentworth Falls, NSW 2782, Australia

European, Comparative and International Environmental Law 22: 301-310.