PerspectiveBridge - Conservation and Ivory Trade

Breaking the deadlock on ivory

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Science  15 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6369, pp. 1378-1381
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5215

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  • Revisiting climate lessons for ivory trade

    In their Perspective “Breaking the deadlock on ivory” (15 Dec 2017, p.1378-1381) Biggs et al. imply that CITES negotiations on international ivory trade can productively replicate experiences from climate cooperation.

    However, there is a risk that key lessons are misapplied. Biggs et al. argue that, for ivory, since “[c]ircumstances vary widely among range states…a single continent-wide policy [is] unlikely and inappropriate”. During negotiations toward an international climate agreement, the 1995 Berlin Mandate required only developed countries to accept binding mitigation obligations, forestalling U.S. involvement in the Kyoto Protocol because China, India, Mexico and others received a “free pass” (1). Kyoto’s partitioned structure – which proved ineffectual for deepening cooperation – was only reversed in 2011 by making any agreed outcome “applicable to all parties", creating conditions for the Paris Agreement. Fragmentation has consequences. A legal market for ivory among some countries raises costs of enforcement for others banning trade.

    Stifling illegal ivory trade and mitigating climate change are different types of dilemmas. Climate suffers from unilateral incentives to emit greenhouse gases while others cut their emissions (2). In contrast, while some states may have an interest in seeing a vibrant global ivory trade, those countries individually would not obviously gain by obfuscating a trade ban when all other countries comply. Incentive...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Breaking the deadlock on ivory needs an understanding of the realpolitik, and a paradigm shift in thinking.
    • Peter Bridgewater, Adjunct Professor in Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Governance, Institute for Applied Ecology and Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

    Biggs et al. (1) offer an interesting, but flawed, proposal to solve the elephant conservation and the ivory trade debate. The first flaw is the use of language. The title carries the word protect, instead of the more appropriate word conserve. In the second sentence both words are used, protection being seen to result from banning trade; conservation from enabling trade. This anti-trade bias continues with the suggestion that anti-trade is sacred, whereas pro-trade is secular. Rights and responsibilities of local people are also poorly emphasised, despite many examples of local people helping Elephants (e.g. 2, 3).
    But the biggest problem is in ignoring the underlying realpolitik. Many non-range states are idealistically tilted towards the anti-trade view, often with strong personal support from Ministers. The Australian delegation to the 1998 CITES meeting in Harare, for example, was instructed by the then Minister for the Environment that “if you are the last man standing you are to vote against any lifting of the Ivory trade ban”. Besides formal government positioning for trade bans, anti-trade commentary is offered by NGOs, UNEP, Secretariats of CITES and other Biodiversity-relevant Multilateral Agreements, Establishment and entertainment personalities (4). All of these actors, it seems, are to be involved in the “process aimed at overcoming the impasse on ivory”. Such intense involvement from anti-trade participants would surely unbalance the effective...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Biggs et al. “Breaking the deadlock on ivory,” p. 1378
    • John Fraser, Editor, Curator: The Museum Journal, New Knowledge Organization Ltd.
    • Other Contributors:
      • Cheryl Braunstein, Manager of Exhibit Planning and Development, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
      • Marjorie Trusted, Senior Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum
      • Scott E. Miller, Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

    We write regarding the historic cultural use of ivory and the challenge of modern conservation strategies.

    In the 15 December issue, Biggs et al. (“Breaking the deadlock on ivory,” p. 1378) discuss the different value systems underlying conflict in how to regulate trade in modern unworked ivory relative to promoting conservation of endangered elephants. The push for total bans on movement of ivory in many countries, and many states in the USA, also creates a “non-target” impact on movement of historic ivory objects that are valued for their artistic, cultural or scientific value. In addition to iconic craved objects, because of its unique physical properties that have still not been fully reproduced by any man-made material (1), ivory has been used in vast array of functional items including musical instruments and scientific instruments because it has unique properties that composites still have not replicated (1). Before the widespread use of plastic, a myriad of everyday objects used ivory, including billiard balls. We believe that preserving the elephant can be achieved at the same time as protecting and treasuring historic ivory objects that are central to the record of our material culture (note our emphasis on historic). These aims, both fundamental, need not be mutually exclusive, but trade bans have created a debate that brings the two objectives into conflict. We were pleased to see the subject covered in Science as we were completing final edits for the...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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