IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC) makes strong statements on biodiversity loss and climate change, but worrying trends threaten to undermine the integrity of the institution.
For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NRDC participated in a large in-person global meeting of governments, government agencies and other stakeholders to discuss and make decisions on the fate of biodiversity endangered in the world.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the leading global network of governmental and non-governmental conservation agencies and organizations and indigenous peoples, held its 26e World Conservation Congress in Marseille France in early September.
Due to COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, the meeting was a hybrid in-person and online event, allowing attendees to engage on-site as well as virtually in events, contact groups and, to some extent, voting procedures, although many felt that the format still deprived many IUCN members of their rights.
While not an international legal and policy body per se, IUCN nonetheless wields enormous influence over global biodiversity policy, largely because countries and national biodiversity agencies are members of IUCN, along with thousands of non-governmental groups like the NRDC. The key themes of the Congress were the intersectionality of climate and biodiversity crises hitting our planet and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like President Emmanuel Macron during the opening ceremony, “There is no vaccine for a sick planet”.
Here are the top four takeaways from the World Conservation Congress:
1. Congress Passed Some Really Important Motions – The main objective of the IUCN WCC is for IUCN members to collect and adopt motions that contribute to the conservation and protection of biodiversity and this Congress has adopted a large number of them (including several including the NRDC was a cosponsor), including:
· A motion urging governments around the world to finalize and adopt a strong and comprehensive treaty governing the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”). The NRDC led an effort to secure all support for a treaty protecting high seas biodiversity called fully and highly protected marine protected areas (MPAs).
· A motion recognizing science supporting the protection of half the Earth for nature and promoting the adoption of a global biodiversity target to protect 30 percent of land, inland waters and oceans by 2030. The motion highlighted the science behind the need for a transformative change in the way we use land and marine resources and noted that a strong target of 30 out of 30 was an important step on the path to a real response to the long-term biodiversity crisis.
· A motion urging governments and other stakeholders to protect the world’s 13 species of otters, including protecting them from international trade in live otters and otter parts and derivatives (eg skins). The NRDC has led the fight to protect otters, an important key species in aquatic environments, from all threats they face, including the motion-backed trade in live otters and otter skins.
A motion calling for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the negative impacts oil and gas exploration can have on ecosystems and communities in the fragile Okavango Delta region of Namibia, Angola and Botswana, a site of world heritage. This vital last-minute motion has highlighted the dangers posed to the iconic Okavango Delta region of southern Africa by new proposals for oil and gas extraction in the region, which threaten wildlife, indigenous peoples. and local communities nearby.
· A motion supporting a global moratorium on harmful deep seabed mining practices and strict regulation of these practices to ensure they are responsible, fair and non-destructive to the ocean environment. Underwater environments are among the most fragile on the planet, and underwater mining operations can be incredibly destructive. The motion urged governments to stop deep seabed mining until strict regulations can be developed and put in place.
· A motion to control the trade in fish swim bladders to reduce the incidental take of marine mammals, including the nearly extinct vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California. Fish swim bladders or “croakers” are popular in some parts of the world as a delicacy, but marine mammals are often caught in the nets. Only a dozen vaquita porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, largely due to uncontrolled fishing for totoaba, a fish prized in Asia for its swim bladder.
2. Congress was unfair – Although the hybrid meeting format was successful in many ways in terms of attendance, many felt that the voting procedures – which required an in-person vote or the search for a proxy – still deprived many IUCN members, especially those from low-income countries that are still struggling. with access to vaccines, reliable internet and international travel requirements. The NRDC and other groups repeatedly stressed this before Congress, pushing IUCN to allow online / remote voting. But they didn’t. The NRDC served as proxy for five other IUCN member organizations, although many governments and other IUCN members were understandably reluctant to delegate their voting rights to others. And, thanks to a flawed decision to require a 2/3 majority vote, a proposal to allow all IUCN members to vote online for motions right after Congress is canceled.
3. Congress barely recognized the link between the exploitation of and trade in wildlife and the risk of a zoonosis pandemic, not to mention the threat this poses to biodiversity in general – During Congress it became quite evident that IUCN was trying to downplay or even misinform IUCN members and other participants about the links between exploitation and trade in wildlife and the risk of zoonotic disease. Put simply, IUCN just didn’t seem to want to acknowledge that the exploitation of wildlife leads to zoonotic diseases, despite a growing body of evidence that we are entering an “era of pandemics” spurred in large part by the increased trade and consumption of wildlife. The IUCN Resolutions Committee even went so far as to block a “new and urgent” motion sponsored by the NRDC and addressing the risk of biodiversity loss and zoonosis pandemic due to the exploitation and trade in species. wild and supported by a myriad of other IUCN members. Some other important “new and urgent” motions were also blocked under equally dubious circumstances.
4. IUCN decision-making becomes increasingly undemocratic – On several occasions, the application of the IUCN Statutes and Rules of Procedure has appeared to be arbitrary, which may reinforce the idea that some IUCN leaders promote their own agendas, and not that of IUCN members . On voting rights; on parliamentary procedure; on the submission, consideration and appeals of motions, and on other matters, IUCN session chairs and legal advisers took questionable procedural steps that affected or could have affected the main outcomes of Congress . So while Congress has produced many important motions, some of the procedural issues have undermined Congressional democratic processes, which could begin to weaken the institution’s credibility and influence on the world stage if it does not. is not resolved by the newly elected leadership of IUCN. .
The NRDC has fought many questionable decisions in Congress and is leading a movement within IUCN to reform the motions process to make it more transparent, more democratic, and less corrosive to the united spirit of democracy that typically permeates the Congress. We hope that the result will be the lasting integrity of the World Conservation Congress and IUCN in the future.
We will be publishing more on these efforts, as well as our efforts to collaborate with IUCN to provide scientific and factual information regarding wildlife trade and pandemics, in the weeks and months to come.