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Mechanisms exist for co-ordinating environmental actions across nations Legally binding agreements between governments are one of the main ways in which countries

Most countries have ratified key international treaties, although significant gaps remain


International environmental treaties and initiatives recognise that conservation must be a collective, global effort. Such agreements have enormous potential, of which only a part is currently being realised.

can co-operate to achieve common goals. Eight such treaties are particularly important in attempting to move the Earth’s nations forward in a fair and coordinated fashion, towards more sustainable use of the planet’s

There are now more than 500 international treaties that concern the environment1. The ‘big five’, in terms of global reach and core importance to biodiversity conservation, are:  the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)  the World Heritage Convention (WHC)  the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)  the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and  the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention). In addition, there are three other international treaties that are crucial in managing and reducing humanity’s impact on the planet’s biosphere:  the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol  the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The three ‘Rio conventions’ (CBD, UNFCCC and UNCCD) rapidly achieved almost universal acceptance, while the other conventions have large gaps in their geographical coverage (see figure)2. Although the ratification rate of the CMS has accelerated in recent years, a stronger commitment to the conservation of migratory birds and other animals is needed, particularly in the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific. The Convention on Wetlands needs more contracting parties in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. A number of countries in Asia and the Middle East, where significant international commercial trade in wild birds occurs, have yet to join CITES. SOURCES 1. 2. Data from websites of the Conventions.

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Black-winged Stilt © LUBOMIR ANDREEV/BSPB

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Number of contracting parties to convention

In principle, the governments of most countries have agreed to work together to conserve biodiversity and protect the biosphere2 WHC


As of November 2003, 191 countries are member states of the United Nations

atmosphere, waters, lands, soils and life-forms, so as to conserve the world’s genetic resources, species and ecosystems more effectively (see box 1). Most national governments are ‘contracting parties’ to one or more

of these agreements. Taken together, these mechanisms should form a strong basis for international co-operation in conserving biodiversity and in combating complex environmental problems.

Lists of species form a key part of several conventions, and need to be reviewed and updated regularly


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) both incorporate lists of relevant species (as Appendices) for which particular conservation actions need to be implemented by contracting parties. For both CITES and CMS, Appendix I species are agreed to be of global conservation concern, with governments agreeing to prohibit all international commercial trade in wild birds of such species listed under CITES and to adopt strict protection measures for those listed under CMS. Appendix II species are agreed to have an unfavourable conservation status (CMS) or otherwise to benefit significantly from international co-operation in controlling their international trade (CITES) or in their conservation (CMS). Hence, governments are obliged to regulate and manage the import/export of Appendix II species listed under CITES, and to conclude Agreements with other ‘Range States’ to conserve Appendix II species listed under CMS. In an effort to protect groups vulnerable to over-harvesting, such as parrots and raptors, the number of bird species included in CITES Appendix II increased considerably up to the mid1980s (see figure). However, many countries still allow exports of species without knowing whether this use of wild populations is sustainable. It is therefore important for range countries to review regularly the commercial trade in species listed in Appendix II and, in some cases, prohibit the international trade through national export bans or by moving species to Appendix I. As with CITES, the biggest changes in the CMS species-lists have taken place in Appendix II (see figure). A number of international Agreements have been adopted under CMS for its Appendix II bird species. For example, the listing of waterfowl in 1979 led eventually to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) in 1995, which entered into force in 1999 (see box 4). The listing of albatrosses in Appendix II in 1997 enabled the subsequent adoption of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), which entered into force in 2004. However, for many of the species listed in the CMS Appendices, inter-governmental Agreements and action plans have not yet been planned or concluded. SOURCE Data from websites of the Conventions.



During the past 25 years, under CITES and CMS, governments have agreed to take special conservation measures for an increasing number of bird species



140 CMS







60 40 20 0 1975






Number of bird species listed on Appendices

International agreements have great potential to help biodiversity

1400 1200 CITES Appendix I


CITES Appendix II


CMS Appendix I CMS Appendix II

600 400 200 0 1975






State of the world’s birds 2004