‘Planet at the crossroads’ congress hears dire climate change warnings

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Stabroek News, Hawaii

Ecosystems across the world are in peril as a result of global warming. The need for urgent action to safeguard biodiversity and protect against the impacts of climate change was emphasised as the largest conservation gathering in the world kicked off here yesterday.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress – held every four years – brings together over 8300 delegates from 184 countries including a number of Heads-of-State and other high-level government officials, as well as reps from other organisations to Honolulu, Hawaii, to discuss a number of conservation-related issues.

The Congress is being held under the theme ‘Planet at the crossroads,’ and speaker after speaker at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu yesterday highlighted the perils faced as a result of several threats, and warned that time is running out even as they emphasised the actions that have been taken to protect the planet. The message sent out was that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game and credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while promoting and supporting the earth’s natural assets.

Among the speakers at the official launching ceremony yesterday, which opened with a display of indigenous Hawaiian songs and dances, were US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, Hawaii Governor David Ige and IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng.

“If we are to ensure a sustainable planet, we must take bold, collective action on climate change. It is the most pressing issue of our time because greenhouse gas emissions are causing long lasting changes and increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive, irreversible impacts on people and ecosystem,” Jewell said.

“Successful conservation in the 21st century means moving from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she noted, while adding that it is more and more clear that political and man-made boundaries are insufficient to protect resources and wildlife.

“Protected places have been and will continue to be the cornerstones of conservation. It is clear they serve as laboratories for science to understand how they can act as sponges for carbon and filters for other pollution, refuges for wildlife and natural barriers against hurricanes and extreme weather,” she emphasised. “But beyond their science and conservation value, protected areas fuel our economics as is so evident in Hawaii. It provides space to restore our souls and revive our spirits,” the US official said.

She highlighted a number of issues that needs to be addressed including what she called the scourge of wildlife trafficking. The US official emphasised that all must work together and there is a need to listen to and learn from the traditional wisdom of indigenous people.

Jewell said she is proud to work for US President Barack Obama who believes that the country has a moral obligation to act. She highlighted the President’s move last Friday to create the largest ecologically protected area on the planet when he expanded a national marine monument in Hawaii to encompass more than half a million square miles. The president more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Obama spoke at a private gathering in Hawai’i on Wednesday and travelled yesterday to a section of the protected area at Midway Atoll. Jewell said that she hopes that the protected area will not retain the title of the largest one and someone else will step up and create an even larger protected area.

Several other speakers also praised Obama’s move.

Executive Director of the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) Erik Solheim who delivered a message on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the conservation efforts of countries such as Brazil and said other countries can follow suit. “There is no other planet out there…which we can occupy,” he was while pointing to the many threats being faced.

He thanked the IUCN for its scientific work, pointing out that without getting the science right, people cannot be convinced to act. Referring to Obama’s action on the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, he said that the US President will be missed when he leaves office early next year.

Other speakers emphasised that global warming and climate change are real and require real solutions, and the planet is at a crossroads, but collective action can make a difference for the Earth.

The conference will continue over the next nine days and key issues that will be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

It is expected that at the Congress, the IUCN’s 1300 member organisations, which includes some of the most influential government and civil society organisations, will collectively decide on actions to address the most pressing and often controversial conservation and sustainable development challenges. Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by the Congress, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling on third parties to take action.