Carla Archibald and I attended the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Parks Congress last November in Sydney. I gave a short talk (available as an “e-poster”) on an excel-based decision support tool for maximising species persistence in protected areas, developed in collaboration with Parks Australia: Di Fonzo_WPC2014 EPOSTER.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Congress and have written up a few words about our experience.
It has been 11 years since the world’s conservation leaders and practitioners came together in South Africa to establish the “Durban Promise”, a road-map for protected area management that led to a new governance ‘paradigm’ based on respect of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In November 2014 these same leaders congregated in Sydney to reflect on what they achieved and plan future conservation actions to be implemented post-‘Aichi targets’, which were agreed upon at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Nagoya conference in 2010. Over six thousand delegates from 170 countries were represented, coming from the government sectors, NGO’s, research institutions and the private sector, ranging from Ministers to park rangers to students. The congress was broken up into 8 streams that were addressed over 6 days through hundreds of sessions and events. These included:
- Reaching Conservation Goals
- Responding to Climate Change
- Improving Health and Well-being
- Supporting Human Life
- Reconciling Development Challenges
- Enhancing Diversity and Quality
- Respecting Indigenous and Traditional Owners
- Inspiring a New generation
The opening ceremony started with a traditional welcoming to the land by indigenous elders, and a welcoming to the congress by the president of the IUCN, Zhang Xinsheng. Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Luvuyo Mandela, also participated in the opening ceremony during which he spoke about his grandfather’s legacy, reiterating the importance of today’s youth in securing environmental conservation.
The “Parks plenary” began with keynote speeches from Prof. Johnathan Baille, Director of the Zoological Society of London and Dr. James Watson, Head of Climate Change at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Associate Professor at the University of Queensland. Baille’s team conducted a survey asking the public why they wanted protected areas, with the main response being to ensure the persistence of species and ecosystem, and least of all for economic purposes. They found that most respondents thought a surprising 50% of land should be protected for nature. Watson led his address by stating how it is impossible to know if a protected area is being managed properly as few protected areas have objectives, and described the importance of conserving buffer areas for effective protection. He believes we need to work with industry and government to facilitate conservation plans that are balanced between all sectors, we must “think big and act fast”.
Research carried out by staff from the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) contributed towards filling important gaps in knowledge within protected area science throughout the Congress. Dr. Oscar Venter presented his work within Stream 1 of the Congress, addressing potential outcomes of Aichi Targets 11 and 12 modeling biodiversity against different levels of protected area coverage. Venter found that existing protected areas perform poorly for coverage of threatened species, with only 15% of threatened vertebrates being adequately represented. Moreover, Venter highlighted that if future protected area expansion continues in a business-as-usual fashion, threatened species coverage will increase only marginally. Dr. Alienor Chauvenet and Dr. Martina Di Fonzo also contributed to Stream 1 sessions, with their respective studies introducing cost-effective ‘conservation landscapes’ and an excel-based decision support tool for prioritizing management actions that maximize persistence of threatened species in protected areas. Professor Hugh Possingham gave an inspiring presentation on optimal design of protected areas in the concluding session of Stream 1 talks, with key recommendations of improving protected area representativeness and management effectiveness.
The connection between people and nature was an important feature theme throughout many of the streams: a recognition that human well-being and biodiversity conservation is often inextricably linked. CEED members Dr. Richard Fuller and Dr. Danielle Shanahan had a strong presence in Stream 3. CEED researchers also contributed to the extensive discussions regarding human-wildlife conflicts, in particular the escalating trade in illegal wildlife and the conservation and social challenges that poses. These discussions took place in Streams 1 and 6 as well and culminated in a World Leader’s Dialogue. Dr. Duan Biggs contributed to the discussions on this escalating crisis, with specific emphasis on the evaluation of policy response options. Dr. Duan Biggs and Dr. Vanessa Adams contributed to a workshop on mental models and other decision support tools for conservation planning and management.
The workshop events at the Congress were well attended and covered topics such as database management and manipulation sessions (e.g. the World Database on Protected Areas), launching of new conservation tools (NatureWatch, Map of Life, Earth Engine and Global Forest Watch Google Tools), Biodiversity and Business sessions, Conservation Finance sessions. A stand-out workshop ran by Google demoed their new spatial tool, Earth Engine: Global Forest Watch. This tool allows you not only to see land-use change over time but also provides a user friendly method to calculate the changes in land use over time. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, The IUCN Green List for Protected areas, as well as the Protected Planet 2014 report were further knowledge products that were launched at the congress for tracking progress towards global biodiversity targets. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria will be a global standard for the assessment of ecosystems, applicable at local, national, regional and global levels (IUCN-CME 2014). The IUCN Green List of protected areas is a new global initiative that celebrates the success of effective protected areas, and encourages the sharing of that success so that other protected areas can also reach high standards (IUCN-WCPA 2014). Finally, the Protected Planet report, produced by UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, summarises global efforts to support and expand protected areas, and provides recommendations for targeted action. A key finding of the report is that 15.4 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 3.4 per cent of the global ocean are now protected.
The IUCN Congress concluded with a list of key conservation recommendations, known as “The Promise of Sydney”. One of the key points of this document was the acknowledgement that “percentage targets are problematic in focusing on area at the expense of biodiversity objectives”. Indeed, there was much speculation throughout the congress about setting new percentage targets as this can be misleading and could cause important objectives such as maximising the quality of protected areas to be over-looked. Nonetheless, many delegates argued that protected area targets should be set at around “30% of the planet for no take reserves, 50% overall protection, and 100% of the land and water should be managed sustainably.”
We look forward to working towards these promises and commitments over the next 2 years for the IUCN World Conservation Conference in Hawai’i and beyond to 2024, in which Russia will be hosting the next IUCN World Parks Congress. Thank you to the IUCN for organizing such a successful congress, and to all the people and funding institutions that have allowed CEED staff to attend this event. We would like to end with one our favorite quotes from the congress: “Nature needs more. We need to keep protecting areas until nature starts to become annoying. When it gets to the point that we want to kill Koalas because there are too many around, or it’s too loud because there are so many birds in the forest: that’s when we will know we have protected enough.”~ Hugh Possingham.
For more information about the event visit: http://worldparkscongress.org/
We thank University of Queensland CEED members Oscar Venter, Alienor Chauvenet, Duan Biggs, Danielle Shanahan and Claire Runge for their contributions to this write-up.