A disagreement with the European Commission’s view on polar bears

Commissioner Potočnik: join the fight to protect the polar bear from international tradeLast night a debate was held in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the upcoming CITES and the EU’s positions going into CoP 16. A lot was said by a lot of people but this post will focus on what was said by Environment Commissioner Potocnik in regards to polar bears. 

Before I get into specifics it’s important to note that we don't disagree on that much about polar bears and on a number of other CITES objectives including Porbeagle sharks, Hammerhead sharks, transparency at CITES and the need to support INTERPOL’s work in combating wildlife crime we are in full agreement. 

I look forward to being at the CoP lobbying to achieve the objectives shared by the EU Commission and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

On polar bears Commissioner Potočnik said last night that, “listing should be science based and done in a way that we have local population on board.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The best scientific evidence shows polar bears will be losing 66% of their population within less than three generations – this meets the definition for a marked decline in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP15), Annex 5, as the CITES listing criteria explicitly allow for a projection to determine a marked decline.

As far as the local population is concerned a poll released last week showed that 85% of Canadians support an Appendix I listing of polar bears under CITES.

This is a huge majority of local people wanting more protections for polar bear from trade.

Commissioner Potočnik also said, quite correctly, that “there is no guarantee that an international trade ban will be beneficial to the conservation of polar bears.”

There are no guarantees in conservation.

We do know that the scientific "Precautionary Principle" calls for the alleviation of all possible threats when a species is endanger of extinction, and unsustainable and unnecessary killing of polar bears for international trade is a threat that can be readily addressed.

A further point was that “only a share [of polar bear skins] is directed to international trade.” This share is more than half of all the polar bears killed making it a significant factor that should not be underestimated.

Concluding his speech last night Commissioner Potočnik pointed out the major threat to polar bears is climate change – a statement which we agree with.

This fact does not preclude action on other fronts. Crucially, CITES does not require that trade must be the main threat to a species for it to be listed: to be listed on Appendix I a species must be threatened with extinction and affected by trade.

The polar bear easily meets both criteria.

I would encourage everyone to watch the debate for themselves.

One of the many very good points that Commissioner Potočnik made last night was that the “fight against illegal trafficking and crime [in wildlife products] is a top priority” for the EU commission.

In the next couple of weeks the International Fund for Animal Welfare will unveil a new report showing that the current legal trade in polar bears is facilitating the illegal poaching and trafficking in Russian polar bears.

Placing polar bears on Appendix I would help in the fight against illegal trafficking.

For all the reasons above, and numerous other ones that lead to the clear conclusion that the polar bear needs protections from international trade, IFAW strongly disagrees with the EU Commission’s inclination not to support the proposal to uplist the polar bear to Appendix I of the CITES treaty.

In the past couple of weeks, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Belgium and Austria have all come out in favour of this proposal.

We hope the Commissioner will join these and many other countries that have indicated their support for this proposal.


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