Largest environmental meeting sends wake-up call to the world

09 October 2008 | International news release

It’s time to wake up and take action to protect the planet’s natural wealth, that’s the message of the first part of IUCN’s World Conservation Congress.

More than 8,000 specialists from the conservation community, governments, NGOs, academia, private sector, women and indigenous groups have gathered in Barcelona to discuss the most pressing issues of our time.

“In the last four days the call to protect the planet has been heard from both government leaders and the NGO community,” says Valli Moosa, President of IUCN. “Environmental concerns are now at the top of the decision-makers priority list.”

“Absolutely everyone now agrees that we can’t postpone decisive action if we are to avoid major disruptions in all spheres of human and natural activities” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Business as usual is simply not an option.”

While climate change was on everybody’s mind and was addressed in many reports and presentations, the scope of the topics examined during the meeting is indicative of the challenges the world is facing. From threatened species to forest management, from the impact of climate change on infectious diseases to the need for private sector involvement, or from indigenous rights to fisheries governance, participants were exposed to a great deal of new research, new approaches and new partnerships.

Concrete announcements were made regarding species and habitat protection. The IUCN Red List showed that we are facing an extinction crisis, but that properly funded and well planned conservation measures can be successful – with close to 40 species of mammals showing signs of recovery.

Announcements of millions of dollars dedicated to species conservation made by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, by the GEF and by the Living Oceans Foundation have shown that more and more people understand the need to invest in conservation.

Important initiatives, such as the work with Google Earth, will also help raise awareness for the general public and give new tools for conservation experts around the world. The MacArthur Foundation announced a US$50 million commitment for climate change adaptation measures. Three scientific marine expeditions were announced, with the goal of increasing our knowledge about the state of our oceans.

Far-reaching agreements were also concluded. Agreement on key principles on high-seas governance were achieved; new working relationships with fishermen’s association and conservation groups were established; an historical agreement on principles guiding forest management to face climate change was announced by a group including business, indigenous and conservation groups, international financial institutions and trade unions.

While the world seems to be entangled in the turmoil of a financial crisis, civil society, environmentalists, governments and business were busy defining a different way to do things. With initiatives such as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), or Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), collaboration between the conservation and business world is taking on a new and promising meaning.

“What we have seen is a defining moment in bringing different perspectives together and, in some cases, developing consensus that will have an important and long-lasting impact,” says Bill Jackson, Deputy Director General of IUCN. “We heard about new facts – mostly negative – and about new science and solutions. I think we are setting a different and much more productive way to deal with fundamental conservation issues.”

The World Conservation Congress allowed NGOs to have direct access to decision makers – governmental or from the private sector. A session with 10 African Ministers, allowed participants to raise their concerns, their ideas directly; panel discussions allowed spiritual leaders, philanthropists or climate change specialists to share their thoughts to a wide and varied audience.

“More than ever, we were able to share ideas and network in very free and productive ways. I’m convinced that the contacts we have made here will bring benefits to the people we are working with,” says Sanit Aksornkoae, of the Thailand Environmental Institute.

The World Conservation Congress now enters its second phase, where IUCN’s members will elect a new president and Council and vote on the resolutions which will guide IUCN’s work for the coming four years.

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About IUCN

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.