Outside the the sun shines over the Circus Maximus; down the road sits the Coliseum; this is the centre of Rome – the heart of an ancient city. Here on one of the famous hills, the city was founded. Here Romulus killed Remus. Here the Sabines came to a party and were forcibly detained and worse. Here, in the 21st century, we find the modern vast maze of a building that hosts the head quarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
This week FAO hosts the meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). WDCS is here to follow a number of issues and encourage certain actions for cetaceans. On the agenda are issues affecting birds, bats, gorillas, antelopes, whales, dolphins and more besides. The opening ceremony starts a little after 10am. Present are a number of dignitaries, including at least one prince. Indeed, following an introduction from Robert Hepworth, the Executive Secretary of CMS, Prince Albert of Monaco welcomes everyone and talks about the first 25 years of CMS and the commitment of his own country; he mentions the Pelagos Sanctuary (concluded between Monaco, Italy and France) and the local cetacean agreement ACCOBAMS (which Monaco proudly hosts).
He also mentions the situation of the highly endangered Mediterranean monk seals. Migratory species, he says, allow our world to breathe. And he stresses that nature is necessary for our planet to survive; the survival of other species is key in the survival of our species. He highlights the plight of the gorillas, which are a major focus of this meeting. As he speaks photographs of endangered migratory species appear on the screen behind him. (We recognize one image of two leaping bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth as originating with our own Charlie Phillips.) He concludes to warm applause and Rob Hepworth thanks him for his comments and support, especially with regard to CMS’s Year of the Dolphin.
The Italian Minister for Environment, Land and Sea speaks next. She describes the biodiversity of Italy, the need for the best international partnership and her pride in the new Italian Atlas of Migratory Species. She also tells us that Rome has just set up a center for the rehabilitation of bats (which live in the many nooks and crannies of Rome’s ruins). Italy also has a lot of sea with migratory species (and she too mention the Pelagos sanctuary). She also notes that Italy will soon have the presidency of the G8 and commits to work there to the benefit of the environment.
The Prince, the CMS Executive Secretary and the Italian Minister.
The Environment Commissioner of the city of Rome comes to the microphone next and talks enthusiastically about the natural wealth of Rome. He mentions many statistics including 2,500 species of insects (14% of the Italian total). 30 mammal species are also found within the city boundary and he stresses that they are working hard to enhance this. Then a new bat agreement is signed and there is an exodus from the platform. The prince leaves with the Minister and their entourages.
The CMS executive director now tries to introduce Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (the body that overseas the work of a number of agreements including CMS). He is pre-recorded and pops up on the screen… but there is no sound. So the film is abruptly stopped after a few minutes of Steiner miming and the last (but not the least) speaker of the opening ceremony the WDCS CEO, Christopher Butler Stroud, is called on to contribute. The CMS Secretary introduces him noting that WDCS is one of CMS’s strongest partners in recent years – and a founding partner of Year of the Dolphin. Chris moves to the microphone and starts with a few words of Italian… before he gets much further he is interrupted by Achim Steiner, who has come back to life on the big screen. The recording of Achim is again stopped and Chris resumes. He looks for the slides that he has painstaking chosen as a backdrop to his presentation but the big screen only shows the start of the Steiner film. Chris’s speech (which we have posted on this blog) is greeted by much applause.
Mr Hepworth thanks him for that stirring speech and for the support that WDCS gives CMS almost on a daily basis. Then Achim Steiner is allowed to speak, although acoustic problems cause his tone to occasionally become rather trombone-like. He talks about the history and the awareness-rising activities of CMS. He also salutes the ten CMS champions, which include our own Margi Prideaux (who later in the day receives an award.) He wishes the meeting well. The opening ceremony ends.
There is a swift break and we start the business of the meeting, with Italy in the Chair. Initially this focuses on various procedural matters, including formally letting all the NGO observers including WDCS in. Reports on the effectiveness and status of the Convention and its daughter agreements are presented. 110 countries are now parties. We hear from the Standing Committee and Scientific Council. A presentation on climate change follows .This includes a mention of narwhals and the threat posed by a decline in krill. A discussion then follows around the issue of the Climate Change resolution proposed by Australia. WWF and a little later WDCS speak up for the development of a new resolution to recognize the plight of arctic marine species. This is a little awkward because no such text has been circulated and the recommendation of the Scientific Council on this theme has not yet been circulated. For the countries, Monaco speaks up boldly in support of this issue too. The chair sums up and asks the Australians to try to revise their resolution to address this. Monaco asks for the floor again to say that we need a separate resolution. Ok, says the Chair, let’s work on this and we need something by tomorrow afternoon. Avian flu is discussed at some length. It’s important but we will not dwell on it.
Then Heidrun Frisch of the CMS Secretariat gives a rousing presentation on the behalf of migratory marine species. This details the extensive work of the secretariat, partner organizations and others on this theme. Discussion on some aspects of this including bycatch and climate change follow. Monaco again raises arctic species. Some speakers notice that some of the issues need to include consideration of birds. IFAW speaks up to support all the marine species initiatives. The US speaks (probably for the first time at a CMS COP as this is their first attendance) to broadly support initiatives. WWF also makes a supportive intervention. The EU seemed less enthusiastic, but did support the bycatch resolution although they were worried about harmonizing it with the work of ASCOBANS. New Zealand seemed pleased about things.
The IWC Secretariat notes how much work on all these matters they were already doing. The main meeting closes. A climate change working group breaks out up in the India room two floor higher in the vast FAO meeting (many delegates get lost trying to find it). Simultaneously, the evening event celebrating the CMS Champions occurs on the ground floor (Margi Prideaux is given this award) … and then shortly after this everyone is treated to some rather nice food and drinks on the eighth floor.