skip to content


Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance

Ensuring the social and environmental sustainability of international wildlife trade is a matter of critical importance for the preservation of biodiversity, and for protecting livelihoods for many communities worldwide. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a legally binding international agreement with a membership of 184 State Parties. Its mission is to “to promote international cooperation for the protection of certain species of wild fauna and flora against over-exploitation through international trade and recognizing the importance of maintaining those species throughout their range at a level consistent with their role in the ecosystem” (CITES Strategic Vision: 2021-2030). A new 2023 volume "CITES as a Tool for Sustainable Development", published by Cambridge University Press, seeks to underline and explore the legal aspects of implementing the CITES to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The volume is edited by Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Alexandra R Harrington, and David Andrew Wardell, and assisted by Michelle Anagnostou. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger is a Full Professor of Law at the University of Waterloo; Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor; Fellow of Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance and Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge; and Senior Director of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law. Alexandra R Harrington is the Research Director at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law, and the 2018 – 2020 Fulbright Canada Special Foundation Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. D. Andrew Wardell was the former Research Director of the Center for International Forestry Research's (CIFOR) Forests and Governance Programme. He is currently a Principal Scientist with the CIFOR Value Chains, Finance and Investment team based in Denmark. Michelle Anagnostou is a PhD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow in Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, whose research interests lie in the intersections between criminal, social, and environmental justice, with a focus on illegal wildlife trade.

The volume provides an accessible overview of CITES that is informed by high quality research and the first-hand experiences of a diverse team of researchers, practitioners and policy specialists from around the world. Through a series of edited chapters, the authors provide emerging insights of current efforts to secure the protection of listed species. By reviewing how CITES obligations have affected and continue to shape the design and implementation of national regulatory regimes, as well as existing policies and laws on CITES-listed species as they relate to the sustainable development objectives of different countries, the authors provide rich and detailed analyses of current attempts to regulate trade in threatened species. They highlight the legal obstacles that States and stakeholders are facing, and the innovations which might overcome current barriers. They also examine, the practical, legal, political and economic options that might strengthen the implementation of regulations to comply with CITES in contemporary settings. The analyses consider, in particular, how regulations to implement CITES can also foster sustainable development in developing countries, while also connecting the global systems of regulations that shape trade in species across global value chains. The authors offer ideas for ways to further develop the CITES regime in the interest of future generations. This is especially critical in the context of a sustainable, green, and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

CITES is an international regulatory instrument that aims to ensure that international trade in wildlife is legal, sustainable and traceable. This role was explicitly recognized by States at Rio+20 and articulated through paragraph 203 in The future we want which recognized CITES as a convention that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development. The Convention’s effectiveness is derived from and framed by guidance provided through its governance process, the global context within which it must act and the applied, quantifiable mechanisms available through the text of the Convention and the Resolutions and Decisions of its Conference of the Parties. It is through this framework that CITES contributes to the three dimensions of sustainable development and to the achievement of conservation outcomes that also deliver economic and social benefits. This framework further provides CITES with the necessary guidance, context and mechanisms to act as a key player in the development and future implementation of the SDGs, which has recommended that the proposal of the Open Working Group on SDGs “shall be the basis for integrating sustainable development goals into the post- 2015 development agenda”.

The volume examines the global implementation of CITES by considering specific species and commodity value chains. Prunus Africana, for example, holds useful lessons for assessing CITES as a tool for the promotion of sustainable development. P. africana is at the confluence of the ‘northern perspective’ that uses trade bans as a pro-conservation tool and the ‘southern perspective’ that advocates sustainable use of wild populations as a conservation incentive, often with local community participation and benefits. In addition, in common with many other valuable natural resources, the P. africana trade has been subject to elite capture, which has weakened both development outcomes for local communities and undermined decentralized forest management. This chapter suggests that policy support from CITES to develop a separate supply chain for cultivated P. africana bark would have significant conservation and livelihood benefits. The volume explores many other in-depth case studies relating to the overexploitation of fisheries, including the scalloped hammerhead shark, sustainable forestry management, including Peruvian mahogany and Chilean larch, as well as the regulation of trade in frankincense and orangutans, to name but a few.

In 2023 CITES celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the convention, it remains a powerful and effective instrument whose contributions to sustainable use and development are widely recognized. In an era of increasing pressures on natural resources, increased wealth and trade, CITES remains more needed than ever. In the past, CITES has been criticized for having a narrow agenda, focused mostly on protecting endangered species without regard for social consequences. However, the Convention is evolving beyond its purely conservation mandate, increasingly recognizing that the other aspects of sustainable development are important and integral to the successful achievement of its goals.  The new CITES Strategic Vision: 2021-2030 places great emphasis on sustainable development and in its vision statement indicates that, "by 2030, all international trade in wild fauna and flora is legal and sustainable, consistent with the long-term conservation of species, and thereby contributing to halting biodiversity loss, to ensuring its sustainable use, and to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

As the chapters and lessons of this volume make clear, the CITES regime represents a legal and regulatory approach to conservation and the protection of biodiversity through the recognition of its relationship with international trading systems. With this in mind, the volume asserts that CITES and the laws and rules it has generated are fundamentally trade-related and must be understood as such for their full meanings and potential impacts to be grasped. International cooperation could help to close loopholes and promote a more effective global strategy, as well as ensure respect for sovereignty and promote law enforcement cooperation, which is essential to effectively implement extra-territorial measures.

The chapters in this volume provide important contributions to the current academic scholarly debates on the protection of listed species, by analysing key issues under the CITES that affect the design and implementation of national regulatory regimes, as well as existing policies and laws on CITES-listed species as they relate to the sustainable development objectives of a particular country. It also examines the practical, legal, political and economic problems encountered in the attempt to implement these regulations. The volume considers, in particular, how regulations which implement CITES can also foster sustainable development in developing countries, taking into account topics which have been of great importance to the CITES system for many years and which are still fundamental aspects of the Conference of the Parties system.

Understanding how to bridge environmental law with sustainable development is essential if we are to foster collaborative action to deliver on the UN 2030 Agenda for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the recently adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The recommendations in this volume consider the importance of facilitating more participatory, transparent, adaptive and collaborative decision-making in the context of CITES, as well as broader wildlife law and policy. In addition to offering law, policy and practice recommendations, this volume can serve as a guide for researchers as it has identified clear avenues for research in the most pressing areas.

Reference: Segger, M. C. C., Wardell, D. A., & Harrington, A. (Eds.). (2023). CITES as a Tool for Sustainable Development. Cambridge University Press.