Ancient chants, prayers and the inimitable Hula, celebrating the rich cultural history of Hawaii, set the tone for the opening ceremony of the 25th World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at the Neal Blaisdell Center in Hawaii on Thursday.
The theme for this year’s IUCN Congress is ‘Planet at the crossroads’.
“The ecosystems that underpin our economies, well-being and survival are collapsing. Species are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates. Our climate is in crisis. And it’s all happening on our watch,” read a message from the IUCN’s organizing committee.
“In 2015, almost 200 nations agreed on ambitious goals for sustainable development and achieving climate neutrality. These agreements represent an historic opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people around the globe and put nature at the heart of our decisions. It’s time to move these agreements into action.”
Governor of Hawaii David Ige described the Central Pacific archipelago as a microcosm of planet earth, addressing the gathering of conservationists from around the world.
‘’Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the world. Islands are the frontlines of biodiversity loss and most vulnerable to climate change but no task is difficult if it can be done together’’ added Ige.
Sarah (Sally) Jewell, US secretary of the interior, referred to US President Barack Obama’s announcement to quadruple the size of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to 582,578 square miles, making it the largest protected area anywhere on Earth.
Sarah (Sally) Jewell, US secretary of the interior, addressing delegates at the opening ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Photo: Ananda Banerjee
‘’Species don’t know human-drawn boundaries. Illegal wildlife trafficking and climate change are the most pressing issues affecting us. The US is part of the problem and we have to be part of the solution too. We are living in times of ecological disasters,’’ said Jewell.
The marine sanctuary is home to more than 7,000 species including some of the oldest animals on earth like the black corals. Some of the rare and endangered species in Papahānaumokuākea are the Hawaiian monk seals, short-tailed albatrosses and blue whales.
IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng declared the Congress open.
The main issues to be discussed at the Congress are wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation. The Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.
Tiger Shark. Photo: Vincent Kneefel
Three Indian conservationists will be also felicitated for their work on nature conservation. Kolkata-based ecologist Dhrubajyoti Ghosh will be awarded the prestigious Luc Hoffmann Award. He is being recognized for his pioneering work on the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW), which have been designated a Ramsar Site (Wetland of International Importance).
Bibhuti Lahkar from Assam is one of the three persons to be receive the IUCN Heritage Heroes Award. Lahkar, a grassland specialist working in Manas National Park, is the only Asian to get nominated.
The International Brandwein Medal will be awarded to Kartikeya V. Sarabhai, for his lifetime work in creating an exemplary education movement focused on nature, the environment, and sustainability across India. Sarabhai is the founder director of Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad
Since IUCN’s foundation in 1948, member countries have gathered 24 times in all corners of the world. The last Congress was held in Jeju, Korea in 2012. This is the first time the US is hosting the event. The US is also celebrating 100 years of National Park Service.
The 10-day Congress has two parts. From 2-5 September will be the Forum, and from 6-10 September is the Members Assembly.
The Forum is open to all “to debate major sustainable development issues, propose solutions and facilitate the sharing of information and experiences.”
IUCN describes the Forum as “the largest knowledge marketplace for conservation and sustainable development science, practice and innovation with over 600 sessions addressing a wide range of issues.”
The Members Assembly is IUCN’s highest decision-making body. It’s referred to as a unique global environmental parliament involving governments and NGOs taking joint decisions on conservation and sustainability.
Among the 14 motions to be discussed and voted on by the assembly are advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; Mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; protected areas and other areas important for biodiversity in relation to environmentally damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development; a call for closure of domestic markets to all ivory sales; increasing marine protected area coverage for effective marine biodiversity conservation; Improving standards in ecotourism and protection of primary forests, ancient forests and intact forest landscapes. See the full list here
“The tragedy of our global environmental commons, from land degradation to climate change, pollution, overfishing or biodiversity loss, is playing out before our eyes. We can address it if we work together, and the IUCN Congress is a great place to engage on this critical priority for people and the planet,” said Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson, Global Environment Facility.
Over the next 10 days, some 9,000 delegates from 190 countries, including heads of state, high-level government officials, scientists, indigenous people and business leaders will share, debate and act on the latest issues in conservation and sustainable development and define a global path for nature conservation for the future.
Taro fields near Princeville Kauai, Hawaii. Photo: Sebastia Semene Guitart
“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” commented Jim Kim, president, World Bank Group.
“Our ambitions are very high on this Congress. We want to turn our ambitions into actions,’’ said Inger Andersen, director general, IUCN.
Watch this space for more.
Mint’s Ananda Banerjee is attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress on a fellowship from Earth Journalism Network.