By Ochieng' Ogodo
The IUCN World Conservation Congress that closed in Hawaiʻi, Honolulu, on 10 September 2016 set the global conservation agenda for the next four years and defined a roadmap for the implementation of the historic agreements adopted in 2015.
The IUCN Congress closed with the presentation of the Hawai'i Commitments, a document titled “Navigating Island Earth” that was shaped by debates and deliberations over ten days, and was opened for comment to some 10,000 participants from 192 countries.
The document outlines opportunities to address some of the greatest challenges facing nature conservation and calls for a commitment to implement them. It captures the collective commitment by all the Congress attendees to undertake profound transformations in how human societies live on Earth, especially making patterns of production and consumption more sustainable.
“Some of the world’s greatest minds and most dedicated professionals met here at the IUCN Congress to decide on the most urgent action needed to ensure the long-term survival of life on Earth and our planet’s ability to sustain us,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General.
“This IUCN Congress has come at a pivotal time in our planet’s history as we find ourselves at a crossroad, facing challenges of unprecedented magnitude.
“Today we leave Hawaiʻi equipped with a much clearer roadmap for advancing on the post-2015 agenda, confident that we have taken our first steps on the road to a sustainable future where nature and human progress support each other.”
The event brought together more than 10,000 registered participants including leaders from government, civil society, indigenous, faith and spiritual communities, the private sector, and academia, to collectively decide on actions to address most pressing conservation and sustainable development challenges.
Over 100 resolutions and recommendations have been adopted by IUCN Members – a unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs – many of which call on third parties to take action on a wide range of urgent conservation issues.
Key decisions included closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory, the urgency of protecting the high seas, the need to protect primary forests, no-go areas for industrial activities within protected areas and an official IUCN policy on biodiversity offsets.
“International decision-makers have converged on the most urgently needed conservation action,” says IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng. “IUCN’s more than 1,300 Members behind these decisions give them the weight to drive the real change needed to address some of the biggest challenges our planet faces today.”
IUCN Members have also approved a new programme for IUCN for the next four years and elected new IUCN leadership.
The IUCN Congress put new issues on the global sustainability agenda, including the importance of linking spirituality, religion, culture and conservation, and the need to implement nature-based solutions – actions that protect and manage ecosystems, while effectively addressing societal challenges, such as food and water security, climate change, disaster risk reduction, human health and economic well-being.
U.S. President Obama’s announcement to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – now the largest protected area in the world – set the scene for the IUCN Congress.
Other announcements included the commitment from Governor Ige of Hawaiʻi to protect 30% of Hawaii’s highest priority watershed forests by 2030, effectively manage 30% of Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters by 2030, double local food production and achieve 100 % renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2045.
Colombia has announced the quadrupling in size of the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary bringing it to 27,000 km2.
The IUCN Congress also saw new commitments to the Bonn Challenge initiative to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2050. With the latest pledges from Malawi and Guatemala, total Bonn Challenge pledges have now exceeded 113 million hectares, committed by 36 governments, organisations and companies.
Key resolutions and recommendations adopted by the IUCN Congress
Illegal wildlife trade
Following intense deliberations, IUCN Members have urged all governments to close domestic markets of elephant ivory, seen as creating opportunities for laundering illegal ivory. Elephants are killed for their tusks across Africa, threatening both the survival of savannah and forest elephants and park rangers.
Combatting illegal wildlife trade was also at the heart of an IUCN decision on the alarming increase in the poaching of vicuña for its fibre. IUCN Members have called for measures to be put in place to promote the sustainable use of the species, and eliminate the illegal trade, including greater traceability of vicuña fibre and cross-border collaboration.
Hunting for captive-bred lions
IUCN members have called for legislation to ban – by 2020, and particularly in South Africa – the breeding of lions in captivity for the purpose of 'canned shooting', regarded by hunters as ‘an ethically repugnant embarrassment’.
The high seas
Members have also identified the need for internationally binding legislation to preserve the high seas, and have set an ambitious target of 30% of marine areas to be protected by 2030. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies beyond the jurisdiction of countries.
IUCN Members have also agreed to create a new category of IUCN membership for Indigenous peoples’ organisations, boosting support for Indigenous peoples’ rights on the international scene. A large number of resolutions adopted by IUCN Members have also contributed to strengthening Indigenous peoples’ rights.
Protection of primary forests
IUCN Members have expressed support for the conservation of primary forests, including intact forest landscapes. These are seen to play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, and are vital for the protection of indigenous cultures, and livelihoods of poor, marginalised communities.
Another decision by IUCN Members has put all land and seascapes classified under any of IUCN’s categories of protected areas off limits for damaging industrial activities – such as mining, oil and gas, agriculture – and infrastructure developments – such as dams, roads and pipelines. To date, only World Heritage sites have been formally recognised as no-go areas.
Oil palm industry
In another decision, IUCN Members stressed the crucial need to identify intact forests and critical ecosystems to be avoided by the fast-growing oil palm industry. The rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities should be respected and taken into consideration, according to the decision. Activities of the oil palm industry can have negative impacts on the environment, such as the loss of habitat for great apes and other primates, as well as on community livelihoods.
IUCN Members have also agreed on a policy on biodiversity offsets, emphasising that priority must be given to avoid biodiversity loss. Offsets must be a measure of last resort, and in certain cases, they are not appropriate – according to the Members.
IUCN Members have also agreed to develop a policy defining natural capital, taking into account ecological, ethical and social justice issues. Members have noted emerging standards which aim to integrate the value of nature in the decision-making of business and financial institutions, and the need for an improved understanding of natural capital.