By Luke Dale-Harris
Each year the Inuit population of the Arctic Circle hunt around 800 polar bears. The meat feeds the hunters and their families, while the skin, paws and teeth are shipped off around the world to satisfy the high demand for them as luxury accessories.
It may not sound like much, but many say that the 800 bears lost to the hunt are more than the polar bear population can sustain. With the threat of climate change predicted to wipe out two-thirds of the 25,000 polar bears left in the Arctic by 2050, the hunt is one added strain that could be immediately avoided. This was the argument put forward by the United States earlier this month, and then voted on at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok.
What may have seemed like an obvious proposal was ultimately scuppered under an opposition led by Canada and Greenland which, on the shaky grounds that "the relationship between sea ice loss and polar bear declines is subject to uncertainty," gathered momentum in the days running up to the vote. Critically, however, there was another factor in its failure that sprung not from evidence or conjecture, but the byzantine workings of the European Union's bloc voting system.
The logic behind the EU vote is simple. By having all 27 member states adopt a common position over a proposal, either by consensus or by qualified majority, the vote can then be cast en-masse on the global stage, dramatically increasing Europe's influence over the proceedings. Given that a two-thirds majority is needed for proposals within CITES to pass, the EU's 27 votes make up a significant chunk of the voting block; in many cases enough for the whole proposal to hinge on.
Shaky and Ambiguous
When Europe is playing the good guy, as it did over the marine species proposals at the CITES summit in Bangkok last week, the bloc vote gives it strength enough to outweigh the self-interested opposition of other countries, and it can act as a genuine force for good. But as soon as the interests at stake are those of an EU member state, the agreement gets shaky and the rules ambiguous. More....