Editor’s Note:

The IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 will be the first major international conservation event held in the United States in decades, and the decisions made there will have impacts that last for generations. National Wildlife Federation, as a founding member of IUCN back in 1948, has worked alongside the State of Hawai‘i , our state affiliate the Conservation Council of Hawaii, Hawaiian cultural leaders and leading national conservation organizations to help bring this important global gathering to the US for the first time.

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September 1 marks one year before the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the beginning of a pivotal year for our world’s future. Later this month, the world will commit to deliver Sustainable Development Goals with a timeframe of 15 years – an ambitious agenda for improving human living conditions for all. In December, world leaders will meet in Paris to set the direction for combatting climate change. And one year from now, the Members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over 1300 of the most influential nation states, government agencies, and national and international conservation organizations in the world, will convene at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set the global conservation agenda for the next four very important years.

This blog post from IUCN Director General Inger Andersen speaks to the urgency and importance of conservation’s role in defining the path humanity will take and how far that path takes us toward a more vibrant and sustainable future. It is also the theme of the upcoming IUCN Congress.

Planet at the Crossroads

We live in a time of tremendous change, the nature and extent of which is the subject of intense debate and attention around the world. At the heart of this debate is the clash of immediate human needs with their long-term impacts on the planet’s capacity to support life.

With a timeframe of 15 years, all the nations of the world have committed to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals – an ambitious agenda for improving human living conditions for all. There is a real sense of urgency in this call to action, as many believe that current trends are not sustainable and that there is a closing window of opportunity to effect meaningful change in Humanity’s trajectory. Our future will be decided by the choices we make now.

Today we are some 7.3 billion people on Earth and the UN estimates that, under a medium growth scenario, we will be more than 8.4 billion by 2030. Over half the world’s population is already living in urban areas, increasingly disconnected from the complex systems of Nature and the biodiversity that keep us all alive. Shifting patterns of global wealth and economic growth over the past 15 years have led to important increases in economic wellbeing, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty.

But in addition to the type of progress we all applaud, such as poverty reduction and improved maternal health, other problems persist or grow steadily worse. The benefits of development are not shared equitably, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and economic growth is occurring at the expense of ecological integrity. We can expect more of this to happen over the next 15 years, and time is running out for us humans to find ways of progressing that safeguard and reinforce the natural world that sustains us.

Ohia lehua flower (Metrosideros polymorpha) in Hawaii. Photo Credit: ©IUCN Photo Library, Sebastia Semene Guitart
Ohia lehua flower (Metrosideros polymorpha) in Hawaii. Photo Credit: ©IUCN Photo Library, Sebastia Semene Guitart
In one form or another, Nature will most likely go on, so the relevant question is: to what extent will healthy, prosperous and secure human societies continue to be a part of the story, and how much of the greater community of life will persist?

One can take a pessimistic view — that it is already too late to avoid catastrophe, and therefore we must now focus on survival and recovery. This leaves people in despair. Or one can be optimistic — arguing that Humanity has faced and overcome many great challenges in the past and will continue to do so. This risks indifference and denial.

There is, however, an emerging viable third alternative – embracing the reality that change is coming, and this can either enhance resilience or result in greater instability and uncertainty. This alternative future has been described in various global declarations over recent years, including IUCN’s World Charter for Nature, Agenda 21 and The Earth Charter from the Earth Summit in Rio, and several U.N. General Assembly resolutions on Harmony with Nature. Collectively, they point to the need for profound transformations in our patterns of production and consumption, and recognition that every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.

This alternative approach stresses that nature conservation and human progress are not mutually exclusive: economic, political and technological choices can promote and even enhance our planet’s natural assets.

To inform these choices, IUCN works around the world in three areas: valuing and conserving wildlife and all of Nature’s diversity, advancing effective and equitable governance of the use of Nature, and deploying Nature-based solutions to climate, food and development challenges. IUCN is demonstrating that Nature is not an obstacle to human aspirations, but rather an essential partner, offering valuable contributions towards all our endeavours.

But there is much to do: We need to bring these pieces together, with all of IUCN’s members and partners, to collectively complete the greatest puzzle ever attempted: to secure Nature’s support systems so that Humanity and the greater community of life may continue to prosper on Earth.

This is our collective challenge for the next 15 years, and this is the invitation that the 2016 IUCN Congress is offering to the world.

Inger 219x240About the Author:

Ms. Inger Andersen is the Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and was appointed Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in January 2015.

Ms. Andersen brings a passion for conservation and sustainable development with more than 30 years of experience in international development economics, environmental sustainability and policy-making, as well as in designing and implementing projects and generating on-the-ground impact. She has played a key role in supporting riparian countries on international water management and hydro diplomacy.