IUCN World Parks Congress reports
Conservation Council ace reporter Ishbel Cullen, an ANU student and volunteer with 350.org, is attending the IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) in Sydney and providing reports for us. The WPC is a landmark global forum on protected areas held every ten years with over 5,000 people participating this year. It is the world’s most influential gathering of people involved in protected area governance, and sets a global agenda for the following decade.
Ishbel has attended the conference as a volunteer and also as part of a group called the Young People’s Media Coalition (YPMC). The YPMC aims to create and distribute media pieces that provide a youth perspective on the conference. Here is her first report.
First Day at World Parks Congress
The World Parks Congress, happening for the next week in Sydney, is a once-in-a-decade event. The last World Parks Congress was held in South Africa in 2004 and opened by the late Nelson Mandela. Organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Parks Congress is the flagship global forum on protected areas, which includes all terrestrial and marine areas legally designated for the conservation of nature. The Congress brings together park rangers, conservation experts, government officials and concerned citizens to foster a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the global protected area network.
The opening plenary, held on Thursday, was a balancing act between applauding achievements and acknowledging some grave realities. However, the emphasis for this session was definitely on the former, creating a positive and self-congratulatory atmosphere. The former Director General of the IUCN, Achim Steiner, outlined the growth in the protected area network over the past decade, which now includes an area equivalent to the size of Africa. There was a live video call to an exuberant marine biologist under water, showing us around the Great Barrier Reef. The Chinese vice minister for Forestry explained that 18% of Chinese territory is in protected areas and there ambitious plans for the future. We even heard the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop waxing lyrical about her heartfelt commitment to Australia’s natural heritage.
The sentiment from this Australian Government Minister would have made many in the audience feel uncomfortable, given the federal governments many assaults on Australia’s environment were not mentioned. The governments climate change policy was barely alluded to, which was particularly awkward given the focus on the Oceania, with a number of Pacific head of states giving talks about the impacts of sea-level rise.
The natural world is an eternal source of inspiration for so many of us and the protected area network is a huge achievement that the global conservation movement should celebrate. However, I hope to see the seriousness of the threats to biodiversity, especially the sleeping giant of climate change, openly confronted at the WPC in the coming days. Luckily climate change is on the agenda, unlike another notable gathering happening in Brisbane this weekend.