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Whoa, I don’t know if you have been keeping up with environmental events, but 2022 ended with quite a bang. We saw new laws passed, treaties signed, and agreements made at three important international conferences. So, to kick off 2023, I wanted to share with you the key takeaways from the Big Cat Safety Act, CoP19, Cop15, and COP27, and how these decisions will impact the foreseeable future.
Big cat safety act updates
First, let’s discuss the Big Cat Safety Act.
In case you haven’t heard of the Big Safety Act or missed Episode 65 with Sarika, The Big Cat Safety Act was proposed by Representative Mike Quigley on January 11th, 2021 in response to Tiger King, the absolutely absurd Netflix series that brought to light the horrors of private big cat ownership in the US.
The Act’s goal is to ban the private ownership of big cats and hybrids, and make it illegal to offer public interactions with big cats, including cub petting which is one of the main drivers of this industry. I understand the desire to want to pet and love all over a cub, but most people that participate in close interactions with cubs don’t realize that as soon as that cub is deemed unusable for photo ops, it is usually sold off, kept in less than ideal conditions, or as proven on Tiger King, euthanized.
Additionally, interacting with a deadly predator can have serious negative consequences. In a press release on Mike Quigley’s website, Sara Amundson, President of Humane Society Legislative Fund, shared that, “Since 1990, more than 400 incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Five children and 19 adults have been killed and hundreds of others injured, some losing limbs or suffering other traumatic injuries.” There is literally almost nothing good about the private big cat industry, and finally, the US government has taken action to address this.
On December 20th, 2022, the Act was officially signed into law. Any person or facility that currently owns a big cat has 180 days to register their animal with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or face a $20,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Those are pretty serious sentences if someone is found guilty of illegally owning a big cat. I’m curious to see what happens next and if any will actually be fined and/or jailed for owning a big cat, but at least now there is uniform law across the country that should, in theory, be enforced everywhere.
Considering that there are more tigers in the state of Texas than in the wild, this is a massive victory for big cat conservation. I’ve been watching this Act for a while now and am so relieved it’s been passed. If you want to learn more about big cats in the US, I recommend listening to episode 65 with Sarika Khanwilkar, soon to be PhD, next after wrapping up this one.
Next, let’s talk about CoP19, Cop15, and COP27. First, I want to differentiate between all of these freaking conferences. Even though they all have COP as their acronym, each is hosted by different organizations with very different goals and outcomes. If you already knew this, then fast forward a minute or two to what was ruled, but in case you were just as confused as me when hearing about CoP19, Cop15, and COP27, then keep on listening.
Okay, CoP19 is the Nineteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and is hosted every 2-3 years by CITES. The goal of the Conference of the Parties essentially is to review current and proposed trade regulations of plant and animal species, and (hopefully) get all 184 parties on the same page. The last Conference was hosted in Panama City on 14 – 25 November of last year.
COP27 is also an acronym for Conference of the Parties and is hosted annually by the United Nations. Member parties are legally obligated to “take voluntary actions to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic [human-caused] interference with the climate system” as stated in the international treaty called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (or UNFCCC for short). The goal of this Conference of Parties is to, ”report on progress, set intermediate goals, make agreements to share scientific and technological advances of global benefit, and negotiate policy.” Last year, it was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6th through the 18th.
Next, is Cop15. Cop15 stands for – you guessed it – the Conference of the Parties (shocker) to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This meeting is also known as the UN Biodiversity Conference and is hosted every two years. The goals of this conference are to create international agreements for the: “1. The conservation of biological diversity, 2. The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity 3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” Cop15 was hosted in Montreal, Canada from December 7 through 19 of last year.
Now, I’ll share what you should know about what was decided at each of these conferences.
First, I want to chat about CoP19, which, as a reminder, is the CITES conference on the trade of flora and fauna.
In Episode 80, I did a deep dive into Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana’s request to sell their stockpile of ivory and rhino horn to be voted upon at CoP19. Depending on your opinion of the issue, it was either a good or bad thing that the Conference denied their request. The four countries’ main argument was that they lacked the funding to keep up with elephant conservation goals and the increase in human-elephant conflict. They argued that selling their ivory would both raise funds for their country and ease conservation demands, such as constant surveillance of the stockpile.
The Parties said that the four countries did not provide enough evidence for the need to sell their stockpiles and that allowing the sale of ivory and rhino horn would result in a massive spike in the illegal trade of ivory, as seen in the 2008 sale. Now, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana threaten to leave CITES and set their own rules for the sale of ivory and elephants. Phew, lots of drama with some very serious consequences. I’ll keep you all posted on how this plays out as decisions are published.
Otherwise, the main story from CoP19 was the massive addition of new trade regulations for more than 600 animal and plant species, notably sharks and rays, tropical timber, glassfrogs, and Asian songbirds. From the many articles I read, experts are most pleased with the addition of hammerhead sharks, requiem sharks, and guitarfish, since these species account for around 95% of the global fin trade.
Speaking of sharks, next week we’re sitting down with the show’s first shark expert. Definitely tune in next week to hear HER (yes, she’s a badass woman) incredible story.
Alright, next let’s discuss Cop15.
Cop15 was also full of lots of excitement and drama. This year, the conference was co-hosted by Canada and China, which I found surprising and fantastic since we never hear anything positive about China in conservation. At Cop15, a landmark deal was reached to halt biodiversity loss by 2030. The program is called 30 by 30 with the objectives of protecting 30% of natural spaces within the next 10 years, restoring 30% of the planet’s degraded ecosystems, and reforming US$500 billion of environmentally damaging subsidies – all of this by 2030 (!!). This deal took four years to negotiate (of course, the pandemic is a big reason for the delay) and two weeks for an agreement to be reached at the conference.
30 by 30 is being touted as a huge success, and should, in theory, do wonders for nature. But, how exactly is this going to work? As usual, the biggest hang-up for many countries at the conference was money. Where are the funds going to come from to support such ambitious restoration and conservation goals? The countries in attendance agreed to create a new UN fund called the global environment facility specifically earmarked for biodiversity, and rich countries agreed to give US$30 billion to the fund by the end of the decade.
Right before the deal was signed and announced as complete, several African countries voiced their displeasure, as the deal did not create a new fund separate from the UN fund. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico receive the most support from the GEF, and some African countries wanted a bigger piece of the pie to help them reach their conservation goals, but that didn’t happen before the Chinese president announced the deal as complete. Oh, the drama! The articles I read said that the parties announced that they would discuss additional funds in the future. We’ll see if that happens.
Continuing down the drama train, two countries failed to sign the agreement – the US and the Vatican. I was initially shocked by this news considering the Biden administration’s aggressive environmental initiatives. Just last year, President Biden also announced the US’ own “30 by 30” pledge with the goal of restoring and conserving 30% of America’s land and water by 2030.
Okay, so if the rest of the world has the same goal as the US, why didn’t negotiators sign the treaty? It’s because of politics.
I won’t do a complete deep dive here since we have another conference to talk about, but essentially, the US doesn’t want to be a part of the CBD and allow other countries to have a say over what the US can and can’t do, or force the US to share technological advancements, knowledge, etc. etc. GOP lawmakers are pretty much against any and all new treaties, including this one, and so the US is creating its own ambitious conservation goals. Get this, President Bush had a huge hand in writing a biodiversity treaty in the 80s that he didn’t sign, and President Bill Clinton signed a treaty during his term, but didn’t receive any support from the government.
So, the US isn’t giving the CBD the middle finger. Lawmakers and treaty negotiators are doing what they feel is right to protect the US’ autonomy.
Maybe one day the US will join the CBD, but that day is not today.
Okay, moving on to the last major conference of 2022 – COP27.
If you recall from 2021, COP26 was praised and talked about for many months for all of the progress that had been made for countries agreeing to do their part to ensure the planet’s temperature doesn’t surpass an increase of 1.5C. Well, since that conference, Russia launched a freaking war against Ukraine and greatly disrupted, well, everything. One of Vladimir Putin’s weapons has been to use Europe’s reliance on Russian fuel against them, which forced countries to scramble for other fuel sources, including coal. No joke, some countries are going back to COAL for energy. Needless to say, several critical political relationships are in shambles, which subsequently has had huge consequences for worldwide climate commitments.
So, what was accomplished at COP27? Instead of furthering progress on political agreements, this year the parties mostly focused on climate financing and mitigating losses due to climate change for poor and developing countries.
The UN put together a handy dandy list of the 5 key takeaways from the conference, which I’ll share with you.
First, a new fund was established to assist countries that are hit hard by catastrophic climate disasters, such as drought and floods. Where the money will come from and who benefits from the fund are yet to be determined, and hopefully, these details will be solidified by COP28.
Second, the goal of keeping global warming under 1.5C was reaffirmed and governments were asked to present even more aggressive plans at the COP28 summit next year. In other words, the plans as they are written will not do the job to reduce emissions enough by 2030 to keep warming under control, so countries have been tasked to go back to the drawing board and submit better proposals in 2023.
Third, accountability is a huge objective moving forward. I guess the UN Secretary-General asked the UN Climate Change to develop a plan early next year that will ensure businesses and institutions are held accountable for their pledges, removing the chance for greenwashing. I didn’t find what will happen if someone violates their pledges, but I’m assuming that will be published once the plan is developed.
The fourth takeaway is another climate finance commitment called the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. Essentially, if developing countries are to properly invest in renewable energy, they’ll need the funds to do so. So, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan says that in order to transform the current global economy into one that is low-carbon, wealthy countries will need to invest 4-6 trillion US dollars every year. Talk about sticker shock on that number. Again, how this plan will play out will be determined by next year’s summit.
The fifth and final takeaway from COP27 was all about mobilization. It’s time for governments and institutions to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And so now countries are encouraged to begin aggressively implementing their carbon emission plans with assistance from the UN Climate Change.
Wow, that was so much stuff. If you’re still here with me, thank you for taking the time to go through all of these vastly important events that wrapped up just a few weeks ago. Now that I’m heavily invested in these issues after taking a considerable amount of time researching each item covered today, I’ll be sure to do update episodes in the future. Maybe individual episodes for each conference to allow deeper dives. I don’t know. We’ll see what I decide a year from now!
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Links & Resources
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Alberts, Elizabeth Claire, and Kimberly Jeffries. “New protections for sharks, songbirds, frogs and more at CITES trade summit.” Mongabay, 25 November 2022, https://news.mongabay.com/2022/11/new-protections-for-sharks-songbirds-frogs-and-more-at-cites-trade-summit/. Accessed 3 January 2023.
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