A Postcard from Davos

18 April 2011 | News story

After attending the World Economic Forum’s Annual meeting, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN’s Director General, reflects on the importance of such fora to disseminate the IUCN message.

Every year, picture-perfect town of Davos in the Swiss Alps plays host to a gathering of some of the world’s most prominent personalities from all walks of life – business, politics, entertainment, philanthropy and, increasingly, environment. IUCN has been present at the Davos conference – more formally known as the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum – for nearly a decade. Its much-publicized glitz and glamour notwithstanding, what opportunities does Davos offer for IUCN and the conservation agenda in general?

The majority of business leaders who come to Davos use the occasion to raise their visibility through various events and, obviously, to do business with each other. A lesser known fact is that Davos also attracts a larger set of invitees who don’t pay the huge entrance fee, including people from organizations such as ours, but also academia, religious groups, youth leaders and other civil society representatives. It is important to note that once one is registered, all sessions are open to all participants, whether paying and non-paying, which makes mixing with all types of Davos delegates – from State Presidents to NGO leaders – surprisingly and pleasantly accessible.

The IUCN Programme is premised on the need and urgency to promote biodiversity conservation with all parts of society: governments, civil society and the private sector. Davos provides an excellent platform to do just that. The mix of participants at any given session, and the Forum’s setting that is conducive to frank and open exchange are the two key ingredients for its success in stimulating new thinking on how to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time – from global security to climate change.

Environment has been climbing the Davos agenda in recent years. In 2010, biodiversity and ecosystems became the topic of the Global Agenda Councils, small groups of the foremost experts in more than 70 separate subject areas. The IUCN Secretariat participates directly in two of these Global Agenda Councils: Ecosystems & Biodiversity Loss and Ocean Governance, and IUCN Members and partners are in several of the others, helping us push for much-needed policy reforms at the global level. IUCN also contributes to several workstreams and initiatives, such as Travel & Tourism.

More than 20 Forum sessions were dedicated to environment and sustainability this year, which was also an underlying theme of many other events. As 2011 Davos discussions pointed out, “Environmental protection is a cross-cutting challenge that requires a very broad policy agenda as well as creative input and a well-coordinated effort from the public, private and social sectors.”

For IUCN, Davos represents a unique opportunity to engage with the broadest spectrum of decision makers, forge new partnerships, and influence thinking on global sustainability challenges. While the Forum does not necessarily result in new treaties or cheques being signed, it certainly leaves people with a renewed commitment to improving the state of the world – the Forum’s raison d’être. Four decades after the first meeting, Davos does not seem to have lost its intended impact and popularity.