At times under the early fall sun in Marseille, pre-pandemic life has felt incredibly close at the world’s largest conservation rally since the start of Covid. Scientists presented the latest nature research – in person – to colleagues they hadn’t seen in months, if not years.
Amid the excitement of the 4,000 people who met face to face at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in the French port city, with more participants online, there was broad agreement on the fact that conservation is experiencing a moment of opportunity, despite obvious challenges, and essential work has not stopped under lockdown.
From sharks to Hainan gibbons, from coral reefs to rivers, a myriad of projects were presented. Kenya unveiled its first wildlife census, which numbered 30 animal species and covered nearly 60% of its landmass; Costa Rica has highlighted its #stopanimalselfies campaign. There were discussions and debates on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the River, Alien Species, Human-Wildlife Conflict, the Use of Smart Technology in Conservation, Genetic Engineering and much more.
Actor Harrison Ford was an unlikely voice to lead the call for leadership and unity at the start of the summit. After a long speech by French President Emmanuel Macron, the 79-year-old Star Wars star and environmentalist urged congress attendees to seek justice for mother nature.
“We all know the last few years have not been easy. It’s hard. It is difficult to be dedicated to such an urgent cause and not be able to obtain the strength to achieve the change that is absolutely necessary, ”he said. “We are ambitious for perfect solutions, perfect policies. No one has that luxury anymore. We have to get down to business. We have to make things happen. We have to get there now. “
Despite dire warnings about the health of the planet and the world’s failure to meet a single United Nations goal to stop the destruction of nature, there have been rumors that the pandemic has created a time for action. is possible.
“What will happen over the next eight years is so critical,” Costa Rican Environment Minister Andrea Meza said. “We only have this window of opportunity and it is shrinking. If we don’t speed up, we’ll lose our chance.
How the world should change remains to be debated. Meza, alongside British and French ministers, is leading a campaign to protect 30% of land and seas by the end of the decade in a UN deal to be negotiated in Kunming, China , next year, a goal that was officially approved at Congress. She thinks this is the best candidate for a simple, unifying slogan that will focus international action and attract much needed funding for conservation.
But the 30% target is controversial. Indigenous communities fear this may legitimize land grabbing and human rights abuses, sparking hours of discussion about rights-based conservation in Congress. As Jennifer Morris, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy, acknowledged: “It can’t just be traditional protected areas. It must include indigenous peoples, with indigenous peoples at the table. Motions to protect 80% of the Amazon and support the rights of indigenous peoples have been passed.
Others fear that the 30×30 slogan may distract from the need for urgent change in agriculture, invasive species management, pollution and resource extraction across the planet.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Meza’s predecessor, who oversees a multibillion-dollar trust fund that provides climate and natural finance to help developing countries stick to UN agreements, called for more leaders inspiring to intensify. “We need rockstars,” he said. Rodriguez doesn’t think the 30% target is ambitious enough. He wants countries to devote 1% of their GDP to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity.
“Many developing countries think the financial burden should be on the industrialized countries of the north,” Rodriguez says. “The developed world should stop the dual agenda of conservation and sustainability while their companies mine and mine. And they have to pay. Otherwise, in 10 years, all these people living in the south will be in the north.
During the congress, it was clear that old conservation issues had not gone away and that new ones had arisen in the context of the pandemic. Forest fires and drought are intensifying as the climate warms. Gaps in the data mean that we have little idea of the extent of man-made destruction of the natural world. Much of the revenue from ecotourism has disappeared and the budgets of environment ministries have been slashed.
For Rémy Rioux, director general of the French Development Agency, which helped lead the discussions on the Paris climate agreement, attention must be paid to the reorientation of existing funding flows while making new commitments. “We estimate that for one US dollar of subsidy that is positive for nature, you get eight that are detrimental,” he said. “In the Paris agreement, we have included three objectives: mitigation, adaptation and financing. The transformation of the financial sector is an end in itself. It must be the same for nature.
During the congress, financiers, ministers and government officials ensured the return of ambitious commitments and environmental jargon, with “nature-based solutions”, “one health” and “natural capital” all buzzwords.
Meanwhile, the IUCN presented updates to its Red List of Threatened Species, with the Komodo dragon, sharks and rays and related wildlife in decline, but tuna species are doing better. Delegates voted Razan al-Mubarak, head of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency, as the new president and a series of motions were passed, including one calling for a ban on mining in high sea.
A return to the absurd also in the thematic spaces of nine rooms in the shade of the Vélodrome stadium: an activist disguised as a rat who quietly watches a political debate on French conservation; a couple disguised as bees relaying the importance of pollinators.
Ford said a generation of young environmentalists will soon lead the changes, helping to correct the failures of previous generations.
“Reinforcements are on the way,” he told Congress. “They’re sitting in lecture halls now, venturing out into the field for the very first time, writing their theses, leading walks, organizing communities, learning to turn passion into progress and potential into power. But they are not there yet. In a few years, they will be there.
In the meantime, many of those gathered in Marseille will look to Cop26 in Glasgow in November, where environmentalists will pay close attention to the impact of the climate emergency on nature and the crucial role of biodiversity in the health of the world. planet.