Hope as IUCN Environmental Congress Opens

Described as the world’s largest ever to focus on the environment has opened to warnings that our planet is at a “tipping point” but also with expressions of hope that governments, civil society and big business are learning to work together.

The 10-day IUCN World Conservation Congress hosted by the United States in Hawaii has brought together 9,500 participants from 192 countries and communities, IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen told reporters.

“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation.” — Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior “Ambitions for this conference are very high…It is the largest environmental gathering ever,” she said after the Sep. 1 opening ceremony.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948 by British biologist Julian Huxley, and brings together its members – including governments, NGOs, scientists and the business community – in a congress every four years where motions and resolutions are put to a vote. Although they might not carry the weight of international law, the findings of the IUCN have gone on to form the basis of legislation in member states and international bodies.

Focused on the theme of “Planet at a crossroads”, speakers at the opening ceremony held in a Honolulu sports arena reminded participants that the main goal was to come up with concrete proposals and measures to help implement the two historic international agreements forged last year – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

IUCN Environmental Congress Opens 2IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng, a senior Chinese politician and former senior UN official, set the tone of collaboration by praising U.S. President Barack Obama for establishing the world’s largest nature sanctuary – more than half a million square miles – in the waters and islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. “President Obama has set a high bar,” Zhang said. This congress, he added, was not just about “avoiding tragedy” but working together.

His comments followed remarks made by Obama at a meeting of Pacific leaders in Honolulu on Wednesday night, raising expectations that China and the US may soon announce they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement. China opens a meeting of the G20 industrialised nations on Friday.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, noted the warnings that mankind is destroying its only home but went on to dwell on the progress being made. Brazil, he said, had dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation while Costa Rica had doubled its tree cover. As for Obama and his marine reserve, Solheim simply said, “How much we will miss this president when he leaves office.”

Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, suggested that the Papahanaumokuakea example could be followed by similar initiatives for the territories of indigenous people’s on the U.S. mainland. “The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she added, noting research showing that a “football field” of natural areas disappears every two minutes in the U.S.
“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

The world’s super-polluters – the United States and China – have formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change in a symbolic show of unity. At a ceremony in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where China is hosting a summit of G20 industrialised nations, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping handed their documents of ratification to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force, most likely by the end of the year. For the agreement to enter into effect and start to be implemented, at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions need to formally join.

The UN Secretary General praised Obama for his “inspiring” leadership. He said Obama and Xi had both been “far-sighted, bold and ambitious”. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to set national targets for reducing or reining in their greenhouse gas emissions. Those targets aren’t legally binding, but countries must report on their progress and update their targets every five years. India is home for 1/5th of world population. Yet they have been denied peaceful use of atomic energy. India”s entery into NSG is linked to endeavors in protecting climate, India complained.

The White House has attributed the accelerated pace to an unlikely partnership between Washington and Beijing. To build momentum for a deal, they set a 2030 deadline for China’s emissions to stop rising and announced their “shared conviction that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity.” The US has pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26 per cent over the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels.

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