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IELP professors and students protect endangered species at meeting in Bangkok, Thailand

March 05, 2013

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Students and professors from Lewis & Clark Law School’s International Environmental Law Project (IELP) are in Bangkok, Thailand this month to participate in the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from March 3-14. After traveling to Doha in November for the UN climate change negotiations, where IELP provided legal assistance to Pacific island countries, Professors Chris Wold and Erica Lyman along with seven law students are helping 178 governments make decisions to protect species from overutilization due to international trade.

“CITES meetings are always exciting because the Parties adopt or reject proposals by a vote,” noted IELP student Amelia Schlusser, who has attended both conferences. “This is very different from the climate change negotiations, where governments must reach consensus.” The 2013 CITES Conference will address a number of controversial and contentious topics, including proposals related to African elephants, rhinos, and several species of sharks. Illegal trade in all of these species has spiked, raising concerns over how to best protect them with some countries even calling for legalization of commercial trade in rhino horns.

IELP will focus on implementation issues that may affect the Convention for years to come. For example, CITES continues to work on rules for trade in marine species taken on the high seas. “Remarkably, 40 years into the convention, the Parties still have not decided whether the flag State or the port State should issue permits for these catches,” Professor Wold said. As more marine species are protected by CITES, the need to clarify these rules has become urgent. “The catches of most shark species are completely unregulated and their populations plummeting. This is why ten shark and ray species are proposed for protection,” Wold continued.

While at the meeting, IELP students will prepare legal analyses for governmental delegates and nongovernmental observers, draft interventions to present at the meeting, and make proposals to strengthen implementation and compliance with the CITES. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for us to see how international environmental law is made” said IELP student Michael Kearney. Mandy Rude added, “This is how you learn the practice of international environmental law — this is like going to federal court for those pursuing a litigation practice.”

IELP will also work to establish more robust rules for verifying the authenticity of permits, clarify rules for trade with non-Parties to CITES, oppose the use of secret ballots, ensure climate change is considered in CITES decision-making, and improve capacity- building programs for developing countries. “It is difficult to comprehend the challenges facing developing countries,” said IELP student Victoria Johnston, who is in Bangkok with the IELP team. The other IELP students in Bangkok are Lia Comerford, Don Gourlie, and Ben Saver.

The students on the trip will also be liveblogging their experiences, click here to read more of their perspectives from the conference.

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