This week, Panama hosts the 8th Our Ocean Conference to catalyze meaningful actions – from governments, philanthropies, businesses, and others – to address the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Since 2014, Our Ocean Conferences have generated more than 1800 commitments valued at more than $100 billion. This year’s conference is shaping up to be another success, so watch for more in the days to come.
At the same, negotiators in New York are hard at work to conclude an agreement for the management and protection of the high seas, an area of ocean that covers nearly half the planet. With the successful conclusion of this agreement, we will create – for the first time – an effective, collaborative, and cross-sectoral approach to establishing marine protected areas on the high seas. We hope for a successful agreement very soon.
Both of these events will shape the conservation and recovery of the ocean’s vast biodiversity for many years to come. Perhaps it is fitting they coincide with the 50th anniversary of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Today, CITES protects almost 40,000 species against over-exploitation because of international trade. And I can assure you in addition to the traditional foreign policy issues we grapple with here at State, your U.S. diplomats continue to work to protect elephants, rhinos, sharks, and all the other threatened species of plants and animals that need protection.
So how does CITES help? After all, it’s not a magic wand or a silver bullet. It is legally binding commitments – built on sound scientific analyses and a lot of hard work. We all know about the work to protect elephants, rhinos, sharks, and tigers over the past few years. CITES has helped us do just that. Although they remain under threat, there would be far fewer of these iconic species had CITES not existed.
Sadly, there are even more threats to biodiversity and to specific species today than when CITES entered into force. But CITES Parties have responded. So many other species are under threat – sharks, frogs, rare trees, corals – this treaty is more important than ever. And it is one the United States takes very seriously.
Let me share a few of the recent successes and ongoing work of the State Department and our partners to combat wildlife trafficking and protect our world’s wild fauna and flora. It is a whole of government effort. Our U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Task Force implements the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and leverages the expertise and programs of 17 federal agencies. The Task Force targets the most pressing wildlife concerns, such as financial crimes associated with wildlife trafficking, by building capacity and expertise for financial investigations.
We work closely with international partners. For example, we are working with the Government of Norway and the World Resources Institute to create a new Nature Crime Alliance. It aims to catalyze political will, foster financial commitments, and build operational capacity to fight nature crimes.
And finally, we continue to add partners to the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Action Alliance. Through that Alliance, we are bringing greater transparency to what fishing vessels are doing on the water and to seafood supply chains.
As we reflect on the last 50 years, we can be proud of the U.S. commitment to CITES and what we have accomplished by working together. CITES and our shared commitments and efforts have made a difference.
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, this work will be even more important as we strive to protect biodiversity and the increasing number of endangered species. The threats are real. But so is our determination.