A fortnight ago in Manila, the RSPB led a delegation from the BirdLife International Partnership (including partners from Australia, India, Paraguay, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Spain) to the 12th Conference of the Parties (COP12) of the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). This is the key mechanism by which countries can cooperate to save species that don’t respect national borders.  Below Principal Policy Officer, Nicola Crockford, who has been the driving force behind our work on this Convention, provides an overview of the outcomes. 

David Tipling's fabulous image of two turlte doves - Europe's fastest declining migratory bird species

With this meeting, the 38 year old Convention ‘came of age’ as THE global convention (alongside CITES, the Convention on Wildlife Trade) to provide comprehensive species conservation across national boundaries.  Attended by 1000 participants from 126 countries it was by far the biggest CMS COP ever.  Aligning itself as a means to support Parties to implement the “species” actions under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Biodiversity Goals (the Aichi Targets), in terms of the avian agenda, it focused on countries agreeing to take concrete actions to conserve some of the world’s most important migratory species, with the support of task specific intergovernmental groups established under CMS.

BirdLife has been working since 2010 to secure support for a suite of actions to tackle the four biggest drivers of the decline of migratory birds: to eradicate illegal killing of birds including poisoning especially through law enforcement, to work with the energy sector to minimise impacts on birds, to conserve coastal wetlands (especially for coastal shorebirds which, together with African-Eurasian Vultures, are the most threatened group of terrestrial migratory birds in the world) and to work to ensure sustainable use of landscapes with a focus on the needs of migratory landbirds.

Important decisions on these issues agreed at this COP included:

  • Countries agreeing to hold a workshop, jointly with the “UN Convention on Land” (the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) to examine how to deliver sustainable land use which benefit birds and people as an outcome of the 2016-2020 Programme of Work of theAfrican-Eurasian Landbirds Working Group (as established in 2011),
  • An innovative Scoreboard, under the Programme of Work of the Mediterranean Illegal Killing, Taking and Trade Task Force(which was set up in 2014) whereby Parties can assess progress in eradicating illegal killing (which should be of benefit to RSPB’s work in Cyprus);
  • Agreement to establish an equivalent Task Force on illegal hunting for the East Asian Australasian Flyway;
  • The establishment of a Task Group to ensure the global phase out of lead ammunition, under the Programme of Work of the Preventing Poisoning Working Group (established in 2011), together with agreement to work in concert with those conserving other taxonomic groups, such as African carnivores, which also suffer from poisoning.  
  • Agreeing to produce, under the Programme of Work of the Energy Task Force (as established in 2014) guidance assessing cumulative impacts of (renewable) energy and power line developments on migratory species, including beyond national borders;
  • Agreeing a new initiative, championed by the Philippines host, to establish a Global Coastal Forum, together with Ramsar and CBD, to be operational in 2019. This initiative will ensure protection of the top sites globally under the World Heritage Convention, development on global guidance on conservation and management of ‘Working Coastal Wetlands’ eg shellfisheries, aquaculture and saltpans, and a global initiative to support restoration of coastal wetlands;

However, the most important agenda item for BirdLife at this meeting was the adoption of the multi-species action plan for the African-Eurasian Vultures (including working with the CMS groups on illegal killing, poisoning, energy and unsustainable land use), and the listing of 10 species of African and Asian Vulture on CMS Appendix I, giving them the highest level of protection.  This will strengthen intergovernmental engagement in the RSPB-led work on Saving Asian Vultures (SAVE).

Other important decisions included:

  • Reawakening the CMS Central Asian Flyway Waterbird Action Plan that has been dormant more or less since its adoption in 2005, thanks to the leadership of India (who were very ably supported by our Indian partner, the Bombay Natural History Society).  This was the major flyway of the world that until now has lacked any concerted action, despite considerable threats;
  • A mandate for the adoption of the Turtle Dove action plan of which the RSPB has led the development under a BirdLife EU LIFE project
  • Finally, the COP has made itself a stronger tool for nature conservation by approving a review mechanism (where third parties or others can identify where a country is failing to meet specific commitments under CMS, enabling the Convention to support the Country to comply) and approving work to assess alignment of national legislation with Convention obligations

This progress at COP12 is entirely in line with the aspiration for the RSPB, as part of the BirdLife Partnership, to deliver biodiversity conservation from local to global, as we have in fact, in practice been doing for years on each of these themes. 

The next COP is to be hosted by India in 2020, in the run up to the Biodiversity Convention’s milestone COP in China towards the end of the year.