The World Wildlife Fund’s recently published Living Planet Report 2014 brings some alarming news: wildlife numbers have halved over the last four decades. In response to the growing number of species threatened by habitat destruction, poaching, pollution, and climate change, representatives of governments from around the world are convening in Quito, Ecuador, to determine the fate of nearly three dozen species, and to negotiate new measures to safeguard many more.

More than 120 countries are participating in the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), where they will decide whether to grant greater protection to iconic species such the Polar Bear, the African Lion, and several sharks, including the Hammerhead.

As migratory species, these animals move across international boundaries. That means that their very survival depends on international cooperation. The CMS signatory countries are set to consider adopting resolutions to mitigate a range of threats to migratory wildlife, including the establishment of stricter guidelines on the location of wind turbines, as well as boosting efforts to restrict the proliferation of marine debris.

Policymakers are increasingly aware that wildlife can bring significant economic benefits, with many countries, including the majority of Small Island Developing States and many developing countries, heavily dependent on wildlife to generate tourism revenue. For example, the global diving industry is worth more than $4 billion dollars, with the shark diving industry alone bringing in $42.2 million per year in Fiji, $18 million in Palau, and $38.6 million in Maldives.

On drier ground, a study conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service found that birdwatchers contribute $32 billion annually to the US economy, and safaris in Kenya generate close to $1 billion in annual revenue.

The unprecedented representation of the world’s countries at this CMS conference reflects the growing awareness that the responsibility for protecting wildlife is a shared one, and that the threats to wildlife can be tackled most effectively through global cooperation.

The CMS sets global policies to ensure that animals can move freely across international boundaries. The treaty also establishes rules and guidelines to reduce threats to international wildlife such as by-catch, illegal hunting, trapping, poisoning, and capture, and it directly protects some of the rarest species on the planet.

We are encouraged that countries are seeing the potential of the CMS and the significant role it could play in bolstering international polices on wildlife crime, marine debris, and renewable energy. International agreements such as the CMS work on behalf of citizens and communities around the world who wish to conserve and protect our natural heritage. They are an expression of our shared commitment that the pursuit of human development does not come at the expense of our natural world.

Published in collaboration with Project Syndicate

Authors: Bradnee Chambers is the Executive Secretary of the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Achim Steiner is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Program.

Image: A bee is covered with pollen as it sits on a blade of grass on a lawn in Klosterneuburg April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader