Jeju, South Korea – The first World Leaders’ Conservation Forum held here (7-9 July) underscored the critical role of nature conservation in peace building and sustainable development. It called for bold leadership at the global and local levels to stop the devastating loss of biodiversity taking place today.
Under the theme Nature: a path to peace and coexistence, the Forum included technical Expert Sessions and a World Leaders’ Dialogue that covered a range of topics from the threats to biodiversity and co-existence between humans and wildlife to peace-building and sustainable development.
Hosted by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of the Environment, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and IUCN, this inaugural event attracted more than 700 participants from 52 countries.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a video message to Forum participants, commending the organisers for taking up these issues. Distinguished author and journalist Alan Weisman delivered an insightful keynote speech drawing on decades of research into human impacts on the environment, warning we were playing a game of “Russian roulette” with biodiversity.
“Human progress and nature conservation are complementary, and we must ensure that the two thrive together – not consume each other, said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “There are credible and accessible political, economic and technological approaches that can promote human welfare in ways that support – and even enhance – our natural planet’s assets. We have a limited window of opportunity to act, before it will be too late.”
The Republic of Korea Minister of Environment Yoon Seongkyu noted that for too long nature conservation was considered a constraint to economic development. “But when we connect nature conservation and economic growth, and engage them with each other, they become one strong and powerful mechanism that will lead us toward a better future for all.”
The Governor of Jeju Self-Governing Province Won Heeryong noted that while there is a growing awareness that human survival ultimately depends on healthy, resilient ecosystems, “we urgently need a new concept of environmental peace, where we live in harmony with nature.”
Some of the key findings resulting from the dialogues highlighted the following points:
• Sustainability is not possible without healthy ecosystems, and this means that biodiversity needs to be better valued and mainstreamed into societies and economies. Experts said this could require creating a new global economic framework that values nature, as well as bold leadership at the global and local levels to implement new agreements on climate and sustainable development.
• There is a growing trend to establish transboundary conservation areas, such as the proposed Eco-Peace Park in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. While experts welcomed these initiatives, in the case of South Korea, they suggested a more scientific approach, based on the unique geography of the entire region – including the DMZ – could involve more countries and independent organisations, and ultimately, create a broader sense of ownership and conservation achievement.
• In order to live in harmonious co-existence with nature, including in human-wildlife conflict areas, experts recognised there are numerous complexities to consider, from differing cultural perspectives to consumption patterns. Therefore, greater understanding and adaptive approaches are needed when pursuing nature conservation, but everyone can take steps to promote and value nature.
• Creating more partnerships and shared visions for nature conservation could inspire new audiences to take action. Participants were challenged to reach out to their networks and to create a wave of support for nature conservation prior to the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which will be held in Hawai’i from 1-10 September 2016.
The Forum, which is set to become a regular feature in the world conservation calendar, is one of the outcomes of the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress held in Jeju, which committed to invigorate conservation efforts, inspire all people across all generations, geographies and cultures, and invest in nature's solutions. This week’s Forum delivered on that commitment and generated new actions for the next Congress in 2016.