A herd of elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
A herd of elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

IN A few days, SA hosts the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites CoP17), described by the body’s secretary-general, John Scanlon, as "one of the most critical meetings in the 43-year history of the convention".

This gathering comes amid heightened concern about the sustainability of animal and plant resources upon which livelihoods, economies and, ultimately, global security, depend.

SA is a founding member of Cites, which came into force on July 1 1975. The conference will consider 62 proposals from 64 countries to amend the lists of species subject to Cites trade controls. Controversial and thought-provoking topics, such as interventions to tackle elephant poaching; the proposed listing of elephant, lion, rosewood species and sharks; as well as the illegal trade in rhino horn and pangolin, will receive considerable attention.

The Cites appendices list species that could be at risk and whose import, export and re-export is controlled through a permit system (Appendix II) and species that are the most endangered among Cites-listed animals and plants (Appendix I). Cites prohibits international trade in specimens of these species, except when the purpose is not commercial. Parties will consider and accept, reject or adjust these proposals for amending the Cites appendices.

SA will support proposals and working documents that promote the sustainable use of natural resources, provided they have a scientific basis and are aimed at securing the long-term conservation of the species. The conference will also deliberate on the role of Cites in securing the livelihoods of people living with wildlife and ensuring that communities are considered in terms of interventions implemented in terms of the convention.

Cites CoP17 affords SA an opportunity to showcase our successful conservation record, which is based on sustainable-use management practices. This has resulted in us becoming one of the leading conservation countries in the world, having saved species such as the black and white rhino and elephant from near extinction in the past century.

SA’s sustainable utilisation policies contribute to the socioeconomic development of poor and rural communities and our country’s natural assets are an important contributor to the economy, food security and job creation.

In this regard, game farming, the hunting industry, ecotourism and bioprospecting play a significant role. The Constitution underscores the need for balancing economic and other development goals with environmental sustainability. This means securing ecologically sustainable development and the use of natural resources and at the same time promoting justifiable economic and social development.

Cites CoP17 takes place at the same time that the UN General Assembly convenes in New York. The theme of this year’s general debate is "The sustainable development goals: a universal push to transform our world". SA joined other nations in September 2015 in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

On the eve of Cites CoP17, SA will host a high-level ministerial meeting under the theme "Nexus between the sustainable development goals and Cites". This is in recognition of the critical role played by Cites in aiding countries to meet the goals.

There are strong linkages between the 2030 Agenda and the issues that will come up at Cites CoP17, particularly as these relate to the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

SA looks forward to hosting this critical and timely conference that will give impetus to the drive to achieve the common vision of people, planet and prosperity.

• Molewa is environmental affairs minister