Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the World Conservation Congress. The Congress is a ten-day forum for leaders in academia, business, government, NGO’s and the UN. Led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this year’s event in Barcelona drew over 8,000 participants. Julia Marton-Lef√®vre, Director General of the IUCN, declared, “The clear message coming out of this meeting is that biodiversity underpins the well-being of human societies and their economies.”
The World Conservation Congress has played a historic role in shaping global environmental treaties, the substance of which are first considered before the Congress. The ICUN often continues by working on draft materials, contributing to treaty law, including the International Covenant on Environment and Development. Accordingly, private sector participation is crucial at the early stages and business is playing an increasing role in the Congress, with over 70 companies now represented.
The Congress currently meets every four years. Divided into two parts, the goal is to elicit practical verdicts on conservation issues. The first half of the forum is focused on discussion led by IUCN members and partners. The second is the Members Assembly, which the IUCN likens to a “global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs.” Business reps and CEO’s were active in many of the 800 official events.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has a longstanding relationship with the IUCN, and this year they led workshops, presented a dramatic video entitled Ecosystems = Everybody’s Business. WBCSD also organized the sole business platform at the Congress. Dubbed the E3 Pavilion, the motto was that ecosystems + equity + economics = sustainable development. E3 was the space for government and civil society to interact with the private sector. According to WBCSD, E3 offered: “interviews with top business representatives, book launches, announcements of future partnerships and commitments…the most recent material on business and ecosystems…(and) a market survey… to know whether a match-making database between business and non-business participants would be a valuable activity post-Barcelona.”
One of the most contested votes at the Members Assembly determined the future of the IUCN’s agreement with Shell. The deliberations reflected deep-rooted schism in the environmental community over the benefits of engagement. Opponents to the failed measure to terminate the agreement argued the value of participation; those in favor took a principled stand against several recent Shell ventures, including oil exploration in the Arctic despite glacial melting The Membership did offer a win for conservationists by voting to close the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery until changes can bring stability and establish protected areas in the main bluefin breeding grounds.
Other notable outcomes from this year’s Congress include partnerships with: Nokia and WWF to continue Connect2Earth – the social platform network targeting youth; ENERGIA to enhance women’s access to electricity and reduce dependence on biofuels; and Google launching an interactive map of marine protected areas. Ted Turner attended and announced the first global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
For those of you wondering how an 8,000-person forum on conservation isn’t a contradiction in sustainability, there were several steps taken to address environmental impact. From working within an Environmental Framework and offsetting a portion of their carbon emissions, to publishing a guide to a sustainable conference, IUCN aimed to serve as a model host for a green conference.