After a few years away from the push and shove of international work, I found myself at a global wildlife meeting in Manila in October 2017. Against the odds, we cemented a mandate to elevate local community conservation voices into the halls of power.
The meeting was for the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), and there was a lot I was there to do, including securing commitments to reduce marine noise pollution and aquatic wild meat harvest.
The meeting achieved some great wildlife conservation steps. They collectively endorsed actions on the conservation of a wide range of migratory species, many of which are near-extinct. These include actions on lions, cheetahs and wild dogs, ten species of vulture, the endangered whale shark, known as the butanding in the Philippines, dusky shark, blue shark, guitarfish and white-spotted wedgefish. Gobi bear, Caspian seal, giraffe and chimpanzees also received conservation commitments. And, governments agreed to cooperate on reducing the destructive impact of marine debris, lead poisoning, and climate change, as well as marine noise and aquatic wild meat.
Amidst all this high profile work, there was one additional task I had that was especially close to my heart. I needed to make sure that the foundations we had laid three years earlier, for civil society to be given greater recognition for the conservation work it does, was not lost in the cut and thrust of the international negotiations.
So much of the conservation work local communities do is unnoticed when governments gather to decide on progress and set new directions. This meeting was no different. Once again, I was reminded of how precarious these direction setting meetings can be. If key voices are not in the room, well-meaning decisions veer in wildly different directions, and important work is consigned to dust.
I worked with the Governments of Ghana and Brazil, my two wonderful champions of the original 2014 mandate to explore proposals for ways that:
We weren’t asking for much. All we wanted is for the original mandate, secured three years earlier, to be maintained. But, a lot has happened in these three years, and governments were reluctant to give us this commitment. Government budgets for wildlife conservation have tightened further. The US is haemorrhaging. The UK is exiting the European Union. Conservative, nationalistic politics is on the rise. As a consequence, government delegates are jangly and nervous about anything that might change the status quo. We had to convince them that this small recognition posed no threat.
I was honoured to be able to speak on behalf of Birdlife International, Brazilian Humpback Whale Institute, Divers for Sharks, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, OceanCare, Wildlife Conservation Society, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, World Animal Protection, WWF, and my organisation, Wild Migration, to retain the important direction.
My message was that civil society across the world is deeply committed to CMS and its objectives. We are their core partners in conservation projects. We are their community in the field. We are their champions of conservation beyond this intergovernmental forum. I was urging the 120 governments in the room to work with us, not against us.
And, against the odds, they did.
So, now the hard work begins. Wild Migration, has committed to facilitating this critical work. This will be work I will lead, so the three years ahead will be focused on elevating the voices of communities around the world into the halls of power.
I am glad I went to Manila, and I am thrilled this work will now begin.
Watch my statement from Wild Migration, on behalf of a number of organisations, about our long-standing work to secure greater recognition for civil society contributions to the work of CMS. This video also includes the opening description from the Secretariat and the brilliant statements from Ghana and Brazil that preceded mine.
This work is also echoed in my book: Global Environmental Governance, Civil Society and Wildlife: Birdsong After the Storm