“The time for talk is done; it is now the time for action,” says Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in an interview before the 2016 World Conservation Congress.
The planet’s climate is changing and its diverse species are disappearing while whole ecosystems threaten to unravel from their natural equilibriums. The Earth is, some might say, at a crossroads.
So believes the IUCN, an umbrella of member organizations, governments, individual scientists, conservationists and civil society members that provide recommendations concerning biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable development to a global policy audience.
Now in its 68th year, the IUCN convenes the first week of September in Hawaii for the world’s largest conservation event, held every four years since 1996. Capitalizing on Hawaii’s “unique and incredible” biodiversity, as well as the United States’ 100thanniversary of the National Park Service, IUCN and its sponsors and partners hope to address six core themes at the Congress, along with pressing environmental concernsfrom its pool of members.
“The story is disruptive change,” Andersen says. “Disrupt the current paradigm, because what we’re doing is good but not enough.”
Andersen pointed to several international commitments forged just last year, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement, and the Sustainable Development Goals, as a gateway for IUCN to continue sending this urgent conservation message to the global stage. But she also cautioned that the scale and pace of change requires a greater response.
The core themes of this year’s Congress include climate and climate resilience; safeguarding biodiversity; mobilizing private sector finance (especially to address ecosystem fragmentation); engaging young people; combating the illegal wildlife trade; and incorporating indigenous peoples and communities as well as faith-based values into the conversation about climate change.
Hawaii is a fitting backdrop for the Congress. The island state encompasses eight national parks and two World Heritage Sites, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, established by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded last week by President Barack Obama to cover 583,000 square miles, the largest protected area in the world. But the “Aloha State” is also a key transit point in the illegal ivory trade, a rising issue as some link security concerns with increasingly organized trafficking.
Transboundary protected areas are another key issue to be discussed. A motion concerning “transboundary cooperation and protected areas” is slated as 1 of 99 motionsto be decided. There will also be a workshop held on September 4 to discuss “successful case studies from transboundary conservation cooperation models in North America, North Eurasia and Southern Africa.”
Andersen confirmed that interest in transboundary issues has remained “significant” since the 2012 Congress in Korea. “The beautiful thing about nature is that it does not respect anything that man puts down as boundaries,” she says. “Nature will move.”
“Having a deeper understanding of how nature can actually be the one that brings people together and act as a bond for transboundary management of that mobile nature is important,” she says. “When you have high conflict, nature can be the thing that brings people together.”
With more than 8,000 members expected in attendance, Andersen anticipates a strong commitment from IUCN members to making, what she calls, a “step change” in the way humans respond as the stewards of the planet.
“It is the people who are alive today who will make an impact on the world tomorrow,” Andersen says. “The window is closing, but the options are there.”
“It is not a hopeless situation; it is in our hands.”
This story also appears on New Security Beat