World Parks Congress Holds Promise for an Inspired Planet

03 April 2014 | Article

Trisha Kehaulani Watson In Xochitepec, Morelos, Mexico, conservation leaders from around the world have gathered to plan for the World Parks Congress, to be held in Sydney, Australia in November 2014. Held once every ten years, the IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) is a global gathering on protected areas.

The Congress brings together conservation and community leaders from across the planet to contribute to the strategic actions and agendas for the protection of protected areas and valued resources for the next ten years.

The theme for the Syndey Congress is "Parks, people, planet: inspiring solutions."

And inspired solutions are certainly needed. There is little dispute that environmental challenges continue to mount, making the outcomes of the Congress increasingly necessary and urgent.

As a member of the WPC planning group, it is reassuring to hear commitment from such esteemed conservations to bring conservation to communities -- to place a priority on the people in the "Parks, People, Planet."

The Congress aims to be a transformative step in moving the management of natural resources forward in a manner that embraces the extensive potential that lies in partnerships with conservation's underrepresented communities. The effort to work with women, local communities, indigenous peoples, and youth has never been more pronounced.

Inspiring a New Social Compact.

One of the unique and most promising opportunities of the Congress comes the Cross-Cutting Theme on a New Social Compact.

A social compact is an agreement among members of a society that to the rules, norms and mores that govern a social collective - it is the commitments of ordinary people to the function of their society.

At the World Parks Congress, the New Social Compact Cross-Cutting Theme looks to support participants to envision the commitments people from all sectors can make towards an inspired and sustainable planet.

Within the context of protected area systems and institutions globally, this cross-cutting theme will seek to provide fresh and effective approaches to addressing the human drivers behind the spiraling threats to the planet, including gross imbalances of power and decision-making. The solution to the world's global environmental and climatic process must be built on the will of humans to work together to change behavior and impacts. An inspirational platform will be created across the streams and themes of the Congress where diverse rights holders, stakeholders and interest groups are able to enter into dialogue and commit to building solidarity in human networks and a shared understanding of the intrinsic and functional value of nature through protected areas.

There seems little doubt that moving the world forward in a way that helps us reach our conservation goals will require a renewed commitment from people across the planet. While parks and protected areas play critical and foundational roles in this effort, they cannot be our only tools in the world we seek to construct.

New commitments and alliances will surely be necessary as we respond to mounting challenges from climate change and reconcile the realities of development. As we build the relationships with each other that will engender these new commitments and alliances, we will surely need to address the diversity and quality of governanceacross geographic regions.

In our journey, there must be no environmentalist left behind.

And I believe that in every single person on this planet lies an environmentalist waiting to be discovered.This means communicating to a global audience what we all know, a healthy planet is key to improving health and well-being for all people - that the health of people and the health of planet is a symbiotic relationship.

Therefore it is our challenge to operationalize this balance: to respect local communities and indigenous cultures while continuing to move towards large-scale protections. To create a planet plan where lives and livelihoods co-exist.

The Congress looks to realize a planet that supports not only human life but the survival of all the earth's species.We must reinvigorate our own inspiration while inspiring a new generation.The Congress is opportunity for reciprocal learning: for communities of the world to share their stories and for the conservation community to hear those voices.

It is opportunity for emerging leaders to build capacity, so we collectively enhance our environmental and social literacy.It is a collective journey, one from the highest mountains to the depths of our marine environments. The journey goes to the world's most cherished heritage sites.It is a movement that we hope finds it way into every community.

Overall, it is clear that a new social compact is necessary if we are to meet the current and future environmental challenges that continue to mount daily. If the commitment and innovation taking place in Mexico is any indication of what's to come at the Congress, this transformative change is not only possible... it's coming.

Disclaimer: The author is the co-chair of the IUCN's Theme on Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities, Equity and Protected Areas, a joint theme of the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy and the World Commission on Protected Areas. She is a member of the WPC planning team and co-lead on the New Social Compact Cross-Cutting Theme.