Sunday, May 17, 2009

Key meeting of UN wildlife body in limbo: official

Fri May 15, 2:25 pm ET

PARIS (AFP) – The only UN conference with the power to ban trade in threatened species remains in limbo nearly three months after Qatar failed to confirm a pledge to host the meeting, a UN official said Friday.

The 175-nation Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is to meet next year, in one of the most important global forums on wildlife protection.

The Gulf state lobbied hard at the last CITES conference, held in The Hague in June 2007, to host the 12-day, triennial event. The next meeting was originally scheduled to take place in January 2010.

But in February, Qatar informally told CITES that it had been unable to book a conference centre, according to a source in the CITES secretariat who asked not to be named.

Qatar said it might be able to accommodate the roughly 2,000 participants at the end of March 2010, but has not followed up, which has caused consternation within the UN agency.

"CITES cannot announce new dates until they are officially confirmed," said the source.

"The delay is creating problems in CITES processes and affecting other Parties, NGOs and media that want to attend the meeting. This is very embarrassing."

Privately, UN officials say Qatar seems reluctant to honour its pledge, but are mystified as to why.

"We really don't know what the problem is. It is hard for me to imagine it is money," the diplomat said.

Host nations of CITES conferences are expected to help cover expenses for delegates from poor countries, as well as for secretariat officials, amounting to over a million dollars.

"If CITES doesn't hear back soon, we will be obliged to go to 'Plan B' and host the meeting in another place, but that will be quite difficult at this stage," he said.

An official in Doha at the Permanent Committee for Organising Conferences, the government body charged with preparing international events, told AFP he was unaware of the CITES conference and no plans to host it were underway.

Attempts to reach officials at the foreign ministry or the Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves were unsuccessful.

Since coming into force in 1975, CITES has played a critical role in protecting animals and plants -- ranging from big cats to cacti to corals -- from commercial over-exploitation.

International trade in thousands of species are restricted or banned outright under its binding provisions.

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