After a productive ten days of workshops, panels, high-level dialogues, voting sessions, after-hours receptions, and much more, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress 2016 came to a close last weekend. Surpassing earlier predictions, this year’s Congress attracted more than 10,000 participants from 194 countries. It was the largest environmental meeting ever held in the United States, and Earth Day Network (EDN) was there making a difference.
The Congress was comprised of two distinct parts, the World Conservation Forum, which took place from September 2nd–5th, and the Members’ Assembly, which convened from September 6th–10th. During the four days of the Forum, participants attended high-level dialogues, small workshops, knowledge cafes, and events held in pavilions with themes such as forests, oceans, and #natureforall. EDN staff hosted a very popular booth at the Forum, attended events on subjects relevant to our campaigns, made connections with environmental organizations from around the world, and established promising new partnerships.
One of EDNs main goals at the Congress was to generate enthusiasm about Earth Day’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2020, and that’s what we did! EDN staff spoke with hundreds of people, expanded our network, and gave out tote bags and other promotional ideas which highlighted #EarthDay50 and asked people to join the next revolution. If the Congress was any sign of how big Earth Day 2020 will be, we are building towards an unprecedented success.
The second part of the Congress, the Members’ Assembly, consisted primarily of agreeing on an IUCN programme and financial plan for 2017-2020, holding elections for IUCN leadership positions, listening to the reports of the IUCN Commissions, and discussing and voting on motions. This may sound a bit dry, but this is where IUCN member organizations like EDN were able to play a role in shaping the global environmental agenda. EDN voted for the most qualified and progressive candidates, voted against amendments to motions that would have weakened environmental goals, provided support for the strongest – and most controversial – motions, and did its best to strengthen the Hawai’i Commitments.
The importance of this year’s World Conservation Congress was aptly expressed in its theme, “Planet at a Crossroads.” It conveyed the serious choices and actions the world needs to make in order to reverse environmental declines while there is still time to do so. Collectively, we are imperiling our climate, threatening the ecosystems human life depends on, and allowing our activities to cause the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the planet.
At the same time, however, attendees were reminded throughout the Congress that there is also reason to be hopeful. Scientists know more than ever before, we have successful models we can replicate and build on from around the world, conservation thinking is becoming more mainstream, and global cooperation is bearing fruit when it comes to tackling climate change and setting an agenda for sustainable development. In other words, there is a lot of work to do, but we agree with those of you out there who believe it can be done and that’s why we participated in this year’s World Conservation Congress.