Critics challenge conservationists to emulate business leaders for change

Two days after IUCN's President called on the world's corporate executives to seat environmental leaders on every board of directors, critics at the World Conservation Congress countered that environmental leaders must urgently learn and adopt business management approaches, otherwise the conservation movement will continue to “fail” to achieve the impacts it has been seeking for decades.

Water and Nature Initiative

Among those approaches are: motivating people through incentives, investing in watersheds to pay dividends, leveraging liquid assets for long term growth, ensuring shareholders in the environment own and vote on their resources, encouraging widespread transparent collaboration, and managing change as an opportunity rather than a crisis.

"Only the people who swim in the rivers can truly change its flow" argued Dr McCormick, Prof Emeritus at Clemson University and author of “Managerial Economics”, warning that the conservation movement has not fully engaged the local stakeholders who hold success in their hands.

"The only species we can manage is our own," said Dr. Ger Bergkamp, Director General of the World Water Council. "Facing the menace of radical climate change, conservation leaders need to stop counting birds and start counting dividends that nature can pay the people who live in it."

Global trends show increasing environmental and economic difficulties as a result of the many competing pressures on our water resources.This has come at a severe environmental cost: half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared, rivers and watersheds have run dry, growing numbers of freshwater fish are endangered. The need for change in the way we manage water is therefore profound and urgent.

At the speed and scale needed, what approaches should be taken to change people and their choices? Different answers imply different strategies for water management in a world where ecosystems increasingly compete with economic priorities.

“IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative has proven its strategy of implementing ecosystem-based management and stakeholder participation to deliver concrete results over the past 7 years” said Mark Smith, Head of the IUCN Water Programme. “The challenge of change in water management and conservation is great but often misunderstood. To save river basins, wetlands, and species, our world needs to change, that we know. The environment is not the problem, water is not the problem, people are the problem. In water management and conservation, our fundamental challenge therefore is how can we get people to change?”

Dr William Jackson, IUCN Deputy Director General, concluded that “we like to believe that we are managing the resource- the protected area, the climate, the biodiversity, the endangered species habitat etc. – when in reality the only dynamic we can really, honestly ‘manage’ is human nature.”

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