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25th Anniversary of the Convention on Migratory Species

Speech pronounced by Dr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary Ceremony of the Convention on Migratory Species, held in Berlin, on 23 June 2004.

I. Salutations

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, my Dear Friends:

I am greatly honoured to welcome you this afternoon on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

II. Migratory Species: Nomads of Necessity

I would like to invite you to take 10 seconds and count the number of migratory animal species crossing your mind. I guess most of you would not find more than 8 or 10 (of course the CMS representatives from around the world will certainly perform better).

Imagine that the number of migratory species globally is approximately 1000 times higher, i.e. 8-10,000 ! Then think of the fact that millions of individual animals and birds from these species are travelling throughout almost all parts of our planet – penguins in the cold and remote areas of the Antarctic; whales, seals and turtles in the oceans; antelopes and gazelles in deserts; waterbirds in the surviving wetlands. Even in cities you can increasingly see migrating birds!

Message of UN SG Kofi Annan for CMS 25

In a message to us for our 25th Birthday that I would like to share with you, Mr Kofi Annan emphasises that (quote) “migratory species are not only something spectacular to behold from afar; they are an integral part of the web of life on earth: essential for healthy ecosystems, contributing to their structure and function and connecting one to another.

They are increasingly the basis for activities that create jobs and support local and global economies.

They are among the main attractions of ecotourism, contributing to sustainable development.”

(Examples: (1) miracle of the annual migration of millions of wildebeests in the National Park systems shared by Tanzania and Kenya, (2) Whale watching has economically superseded whale catching)

“And, though we probably do not think of this often, in many religious and cultural traditions, migratory species have enormous significance, figuring prominently in ritual and lore passed down from generation to generation.”

(e.g. all Storks are sacred birds in almost all cultures within their migration range. In Europe they bring the babies. In African countries they guarantee social stability and


Migratory animals are also threatened by man-made barriers and by unsustainable hunting and fishing practices, including ‘by-catch’ in commercial fisheries.

(In the North Sea, not far from here, estimated 7-10,000 harbour porpoises (Schweinswale) drown every year in fisher nets! Or take the fact that mainly through by-catch from long line fishing most of the albatross species that roam the Southern Hemisphere have become threatened with extinction in recent years. Fishing is an essential activity to provide protein-rich foods. But the fishing industry, with our guidance, must develop and then practise less harmful fishing methods).

The Secretary-General concludes with this warning:

“People tend to underestimate the vulnerability of migratory species, regarding them as hardy and plentiful. ‘Yet if current trends continue unchecked, more and more of them will be driven to the edge of extinction or beyond.”

III. CMS: A Long but Historic Journey

Ladies and Gentlemen, CMS’s 25th Anniversary is a milestone in the international community’s quest to reverse the loss of migratory species.

CMS was one of the first of the global treaties related to biological diversity. CMS was groundbreaking in emphasising national conservation and management activities co-ordinated through international co-operation across a migratory range.

CMS’s genesis started with the United Nations Conference on a Human Environment in Stockholm 1972: Governments were requested to (quote) “give attention to the need to enact international conventions and treaties to protect species inhabiting international waters or those which migrate from one country to another...”

I would like to pay tribute to the German Government which took the lead in 1974, in the development and negotiation of a global treaty for migratory species and their habitats - with a mandate of the UNEP Governing Council and with the active support of the Environmental Law Programme of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Eventually, on 23 June 1979, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) was concluded and signed by the majority of the Government delegations present. The Bonn Convention was born. Germany became the Depository and, again with the approval of UNEP and its Governing Council, became the host of the Convention’s Secretariat. Thus the CMS Secretariat became the first UN-based Agency in Germany with a global area of action.

Slow Start

CMS’s development was slow at the beginning. This is not surprising: Two reasons stand out.

Firstly, public and political awareness for transboundary nature conservation problems and possible solutions was not well developed.

Secondly and this is essential, CMS is a true framework convention. The possibility to develop unique instruments of regional Range States Agreements developed slowly. as creating and implementing new international instruments is a very long and involved process. However in the early 90s, actually around the time of the Rio Earth Summit, with its new, global awareness of environmental problems, CMS caught a fair wind, its sails began to fill and it started to gain momentum.

By 1990 and 1991 three Agreements were in place; two of them, the European Bats Agreement and the Small Cetaceans Agreement for the Baltic and North Seas, entered into force in 1994.

These two Agreements and a third for the seals of the Wadden Sea were the prototypes for CMS instruments to follow.

Lessons were learnt and fed back into developing more sophisticated and comprehensive Agreements such as the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the Cetaceans Agreement for the Mediterranean and Black Seas (ACCOBAMS) and most recently the Agreement for Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) which came in force earlier this year.

Along the way there was innovation too, as Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) - expeditious administrative instruments for critically endangered migratory species - were developed for Slender-billed curlews, Siberian cranes, Great bustards and Marine turtles of the African Atlantic Coast and Indian Ocean and South-East Asia and more recently Bukhara Deer.

Indeed the wind has been fair: the forward momentum of CMS has grown to the point where we now have six Regional Agreements, seven Memoranda of Understanding and three Action Plans.

IV. Why Do We Need CMS?

Long-Term Perspective of CMS

For all of us - for you, me, and for our children and grandchildren - it is and will remain vital for our survival to have a solid basis of a large variety of plants, animals and other components of biological diversity – or, may I still use the term “nature”?

Not a single species that becomes extinct can ever be replaced. Hence, the loss of species is eliminating the possibilities for future human benefit.

We need CMS as a Global Environmental Treaty to prevent extinction of migratory species and maintain options for their current and future use across their migratory ranges.

Since the Rio Summit in 1992 the global threats of human-induced changes of the environment have become high on the political agenda. We have concluded Agenda 21 and three global holistic conventions dealing with climate change, desertification and biological diversity. However the global destruction of biodiversity resources has not yet been halted despite some local or regional successes. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 the governments of the world set a new target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity losses globally by the year 2010. This new target provides, if you like, the medium target for CMS to be achieved by implementing existing regional agreements; by developing new ones especially for elephants, turtles and great apes; by improving national protection of the species on Appendix I of the parent Convention; by conserving key ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and coral reefs on which so many migratory species depend for food, shelter and reproduction; and by co-operating with the Convention on Biological Diversity on issues such as access and benefit sharing, and the needs of indigenous peoples in poorer countries.

CMS also tackles cross-cutting issues such as the need for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), mitigation of by-catches, dealing with oil-spills, the effect of power plants and electricity lines on birds and other human-induced threats for migratory species. Through its work, CMS gradually commits the Range States of species which are threatened with extinction to strictly and actively protect the animals, their habitats and their migration routes.

V. CMS Achievements to Date

Membership: To date approximately 110 of the 191 UN Member States have either ratified the parent convention, or have joined one or more regional CMS Agreements. I have the pleasure to announce today that Rwanda, Austria, Djibouti and possibly Yemen are among those countries which are about to join CMS.

Let me give you just a single example of CMS achievements over the last 25 years:

[ (1) The Siberian Crane is one of the most beautiful and most endangered bird species: (address WWF/D President C.-A. v. Treuenfels, one of the globally most reputed Crane experts, as witness). Two out of three populations are almost extinct. Over the past last 11 years CMS, with the assistance of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), has ensured that all Governments, IGOs, NGOs, scientists and other experts are meeting regularly, discuss their plans and reach consensus on common research, monitoring and joint action. The migration routes have been explored; a project for a network of protected areas has been developed; efforts to adapt captive-bred birds to the old flyways are on track. All of this has been achieved in a politically rather sensitive sub-region.

There are several other success stories including the development of the CMS Small Grants Programme (US$1.4 million distributed since1997); the annual “European Bats Night”; and the superb Websites which provide information about migratory species to the whole world.

You can read about these and other achievements in the 25th Anniversary Edition of the CMS Bulletin (HOLD UP).

As a result I can state: CMS is succeeding and the world is taking notice.

VI. A Vision for CMS’s Journey into the Future

Having spoken about CMS’ first 25 years, it is time to address the years ahead.

New and Old Challenges are demanding to be tackled, including the effect of climate change, desertification, loss of fertile land, eradication of primary forests, growing shortage of freshwater resources, degradation of the marine environment and coastal zones. There are also still many conflicts in the world affecting migratory species as well as human populations.

Species under acute threat include the Saiga antelopes which have been reduced by illegal hunting from approx. one million to a maximum of 30,000 within not more than 13 years; marine turtles, marine mammals, many bird species, wild camels in the Gobi desert of Mongolia and China, antelope and gazelle species in North African dry regions etc.

For CMS, the 2010 target to significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity represents an opportunity to structure the Convention's work. Under its new Strategic Plan and plan of implementation, CMS will contribute a migratory species indicator to help measure our progress in reaching the overall targets for biodiversity in 2010.


To tackle these and other challenges, CMS has potential to work even more closely with partners from civil society in all its rich and varied forms and to strengthen links with the private sector as well as the non-governmental organisations and academia who already take a positive role in implementing this convention. I see a number of representatives from the private sector and CMS has indeed been sponsored for its 25th anniversary issues by a number of companies and non-governmental organisations. I appreciate your confession, dear Mr. Hauser, to a social-political responsibility of the private sector.

Actually, I see a new era approaching which involves the private sector in socio-political fields. The public trust funds of the developed countries are becoming poorer, [most likely as a consequence of the globalisation of the markets.] This had led to growing requests from non-governmental organisations but also intergovernmental organisations for sponsorship from national and particularly international companies. I have observed this development for a number of years already and I am happy that the United Nations, e.g. UNEP, UNESCO but also other organisations, are obtaining increased funds for projects in the field of environment research, development etc.

CMS has so far benefited little from the support of private companies. I believe that CMS is providing instruments which warrant larger support from the private sector. Companies, acting globally e.g. in the tourism area, could also benefit largely by showing their engagement for the conservation of nature and its resources.

I am fully aware that a great number of NGO’s, many of them even represented here, are benefiting from sponsorship by and partnership with private companies. I confirm herewith that neither CMS nor UNEP or other IGOs will act competitively to those NGO’s. CMS is not an organisation which does project work. For this the project-oriented organisations are the natural partners of CMS. Take the example of WWF’s Central Asian Programme. CMS and WWF have developed the Agreement

for the Bukhara deer which is extremely endangered for a number of reasons. Now that the agreement has been concluded, it requires implementation of an Action Plan. WWF and other organisations are called upon to do this; but of course they need personnel and funds to do it. CMS tries to help raising funds for this purpose. The measures needed are holistic. They aim at habitat conservation, restoration of water management, public awareness raising, incorporation of important stake-holders in local communities such as hunters and farmers in the conservation efforts, helping local people to detect the value of their traditional wildlife and organising alternative income for local people.

This shows how wildlife conservation and broader development are inseparable. I hope it means that we can invariably count on a broader base of financial support for CMS, from Governments, NGOs and the private sector.

Crisis in Virungas

My final topic this afternoon illustrates the important relationship between UNEP, the conventions and non-governmental organisations.

NGOs are often the leaders in conservation fieldwork and our “eyes and ears” in remote areas. We are at present receiving disturbing reports from the international gorilla conservation programme which includes WWF, about potential threats to migratory species in Central Africa.

A serious situation has developed in the mountainous Virungas region of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) in recent weeks, by the rampant destruction of forests in a rebel-held area. The Government of DRC is not in a position to prevent this trend, which independent reports suggest is leading to the loss of up to two square kilometres of forest each day. Between 28 May and 12 June 2004, 15 square kilometres of the national park, itself a World Heritage Site, were reported to have been destroyed. This is happening in areas close to the homeland of one of the world’s most endangered migratory species – the mountain gorilla. Ironically this species has high measurable wealth to the 3 countries in the Virungas region – Rwanda, Uganda and DRC – through ecotourism. I appeal in particular to the Rwandan Government, as a new Party to CMS, to use its influence immediately to halt the forest clearance programme and to strengthen its co-operation with the other two range states for mountain gorillas, using CMS as the legal instrument and the Great Ape Survival Programme (GRASP) partners in the area for practical action, notably the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). It is also vital to secure the core park area and provide emergency support to the park staff. I look to the Parties of the Conventions to give a positive lead alongside UNEP and UNESCO.

Concluding Comments

In closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, after 25 years on the move, CMS has achieved much. However, there is a lot more to do and to achieve.

Please give us a hand wherever and whenever you can.

Thank you very much indeed.




Further Resources

Convention on Migratory Species
Official website of the CMS


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