From 26 to 30 November 2012, Mr. Bert Lenten, Officer in Charge of CMS, visited Washington, DC to conduct talks with representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The purpose of the visit was to raise awareness of CMS and the legal instruments concluded under its auspices, to seek additional support for their implementation. Another objective was to explore the possibility or interest of the United States in acceding to CMS and ACAP.
In total, 14 high level meetings (attended by more than 40 individuals), were organized by Ms. Monika Thiele, part-time CMS Officer based at the UNEP Regional Office for North America (RONA) in Washington D.C. Meetings with Government agencies included the U.S. State Department/ Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Forest Service (USFS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Organization of American States (OAS). NGO meetings included the National Geographic Society, the American Wildlife Society, Humane Society International, Defenders of Wildlife, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Shark Advocates International.
In addition to bilateral meetings, Mr. Lenten was a featured presenter at two well-attended NGO roundtable briefings. One was hosted by UNEP RONA in partnership with NOAA to provide an update on CMS marine species activities including sharks, cetaceans and marine turtles. The other was hosted by the USFS International Program featuring more avian and terrestrial topics. In all cases, there was a strong interest to work more closely with CMS and many opportunities for follow up.
From the overwhelming response and inquiries raised at CMS meetings and roundtables, it is clear that interest in CMS is growing in Washington. At the same time, it is evident that more needs to be done to explain how the complex CMS Family of agreements operates and how the U.S. Government and NGOs can participate in CMS activities even as a non-party. Unlike other, better known Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), CMS offers unique opportunities for non-party countries to formally engage and financially support the convention’s activities via its sub-agreements and MOUs.
The United States has already signed three marine MOUs: IOSEA (2001), the Sharks MOU (2010) and most recently, the Pacific Islands Cetacean MOU (2012). In addition to the 100,000USD donated by NOAA in 2011, the country has contributed an additional 100,000USD in 2012 to support the implementation of the Sharks MOU. Meanwhile, negotiations are under way for a renewed Letter of Cooperation between NOAA and CMS to formally extend collaboration on marine species for another five years. This clearly demonstrates the desire of the United States to support the global conservation goals of CMS with a focus on shared, highly migratory species. In addition, the U.S. Congress established the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which is dedicated to conserving globally-valued endangered species outside U.S. borders. USFWS officials expressed interest in supporting more conservation activities for species listed on the Appendices of the Convention and therefore welcome CMS-supported proposals. For countries interested in applying to the “Wildlife Without Borders” grant program, please contact Monika Thiele (firstname.lastname@example.org).
While discussions about accession of the United States to CMS were only exploratory in nature, it became evident that the right timing would be right now, given that President Obama is has been elected for a second term. However, the overall climate for signing any UN Convention is not propitious at the moment due to Congressional sentiments toward internationally binding agreements.
That said, signature of a non-UNEP treaty such as ACAP does stand a better chance at passage in this upcoming term. Discussions are underway with organizations such as IUCN, Audubon Society, and Society for Conservation Biology to help build support and identify ‘Congressional Champions’. This would help introduce ACAP legislation domestically with the expectation that treaty signature in the Senate would follow domestic passage. For now, ACAP remains on the list of U.S. Priority Treaties for Ratification.
In summary, as the profile of CMS grows, the possibility of leveraging more U.S. engagement may increase as well, to the benefit of the entire CMS Family. The challenge is to keep CMS on the “front burner” and for CMS to demonstrate the effectiveness of its programs. It is hoped that with more financial and in-kind support from the United States and Canada, CMS’s ambitious mission to conserve endangered migratory species can be geographically expanded.