From March 26th until March 29th in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, the WCPA Steering Committee held its annual meeting followed by a planning meeting to advance the preparation of IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) to be held in November 2014 in Sydney, Australia. It was a rich gathering which included more than 80 participants deriving from the WCPA-SC, Stream and Cross-Cutting Theme Leaders, the IUCN WPC Management Committee, the WPC co-hosts Parks Australia and New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The meeting enhanced the cooperation between the WPC Streams and Cross-Cutting Themes, advanced the WPC program, developed the process for the Promise of Sydney with a long-term vision on the conference impacts, reflected the involvement of actors, particularly those outside the conservation community and moved forward the logistical and financial planning of the congress.
During stimulating plenary discussions, intergroup working sessions and moments of silent meditation, the participants of the WPC Planning Meeting developed a common vision for the change the WPC will achieve and worked on strategies, to contribute most effectively to the transformation of the way the world perceives nature conservation, and protected areas. Also they provided the starting point of a stimulating process, which will also contribute directly to other political processes, such as the UNFCCC COP, which will be held in Lima immediately following the WPC, and the negotiations towards the new Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted by the UN in 2015.
In order to achieve transformation, the participants agreed on the importance of highlighting the logical connections between people, parks and the planet. Creative ideas for reaching a broader community than the traditional conservation community were developed. Opportunities resulting from the use of new media will encourage the involvement of a new generation. The use of social media like twitter, blogs and youtube videos will help to reach people beyond the Congress and spread the message; materials and talks uploaded on the internet will connect people in the Congress with those working in conservation on the ground will bring inspiration into the congress. Furthermore, live connections, like google hangouts, will allow people who are not able to participate physically in the meetings to become involved directly.
Furthermore, the indirect participation allows access for underrepresented groups, like local communities and indigenous peoples, whose involvement remains a priority for the Congress. In addition to the efforts on promoting access of young people in the Congress, promoting their emotional relation to nature, and the integration of these groups, the value and opportunities of parks for human well-being and development will be highlighted to involve a wider community, including the private sector. The participants agreed on the importance ofhighlighting the importance of protected areas as a contribution to human development and nature that will benefit economic and human well-being.
The Congress will be composed of a variety of sessions in plenaries, sub-plenaries and stream sessions. Thematic pavilions will provide space for specific subjects and large lunch breaks and the times before and after the sessions will allow for side events and discussions. A variety of prominent and inspiring people will contribute with talks and panels in plenary sessions, further contacts were established and ideas welcomed. Logistical and technical issues were addressed during the meeting. Difficult technical questions, like the need for interpretation to allow for access and understanding of underrepresented groups, were discussed thoroughly and plenty of creative ideas were identified.
The meeting discussed the need and opportunity for financial support, especially to assist participants to attend the Congress, and the process for accessing resources from existing grants was discussed.However, it was clear that there is a need to encourage participants to find their own funding, or for organizations to assist participants to attend, will provide a valuable multiplier effect.
At the start of the meeting, we had the opportunity to hear from our hosts, including the Mexican environmental authorities and the Secretary of Sustainable Development of the State of Morelos, Einar Topiltzin Contreras MacBeath, who pointed out the importance of the work done during the meetings the outcomes of the WPC as the global frame to their local work. Also, Luis Fueyo MacDonald, the National Commissioner for Natural Protected Areas, CONANP, SEMARNAT exemplified the new way of focusing on the benefits of nature that his organisation is leading on the valuation of nature.
An inspiring example of an artistic approach to nature conservation and the need for nature was delivered by Jamaica Osorio, a participant from Hawaii who presented two of her poems. She tantalized the participants with the description of the 2010 earthquakes where she lost contact with her family and the emotional illustration of what environmental change means for the people who most affected.
Likewise, an outstanding inspiration was delivered by Pati Ruiz Corzo, who reported on her work at the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, Querétaro, Mexico an on-the- ground example of a conservation strategy which includes community/indigenous involvement and that demonstrates the economic benefits of nature, through the valuation of ecosystem services. She described her personal experiences and projects, living outside of civil society in the forest. In order to reach transformation, “we need to make a revolution in our values. Love is the insoluble bond” she said. The last day we had two field trips, visiting the National Park El Tepozteco at Tepoztlán and the National Park Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, Taxco, offered the participants the chance to visit Mexican examples of conservation and to be introduced into the community-based protection example of the Grutas.
These field trips rounded off the very successful meeting with highly motivated work, development of creative ideas, fruitful discussions, enhancement of the vision of the WPC outcome, moving forward the WPC planning, progress in logistical and technical questions, building and strengthening links between the Streams and Cross-Cutting Themes, and finding synergies between them to finally try to join the Streams into a river.