Momentum for change

IUCN’s outgoing President, Ashok Khosla, reflects on his achievements during a four-year term leading the world’s biggest environmental organisation.

Ashok Khosla at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

It’s a tough question: what has been my greatest achievement? First, I think it would be fair to say that in an institution as complex as IUCN, and for a field as vast as conservation of nature, achievements come from team efforts more than from an individual’s contribution. It would be difficult for me to take credit for any specific outcome or result. Perhaps what I can feel reasonably satisfied with is that the last four years have been characterised by an enormous amount of cooperative goodwill in the whole governance system of IUCN – its Council, top management and across the commissions. We have tried not only to implement the ‘one programme’ approach but also to lubricate that one programme with good collaboration and strong mutual support, enabling all parts of the Union to work with clearer direction, greater productivity and higher synergy.

I have a highly positive feeling about where we are heading. During my 37 years association with IUCN, much of it on the Council, I have never seen as constructive and productive a set of relationships among the Members, Commissions and Secretariat as during the last three or four years. I believe I was in part responsible for that, obviously together with many people, but I wanted to be sure that while I was President, the different parts of IUCN would maintain a high level of mutual respect and a strong sense of common purpose.

It may not sound very concrete but we have set up the terms and platform for effective management of change. Although I am not a professional ecologist or conservation scientist (my training was in experimental physics and my work has been in the field of social and development action), I am deeply concerned that IUCN remains true to its heartland of concerns: the conservation of biodiversity in its broadest sense – species, habitats and ecosystem processes. Of course, since human beings are the primary beneficiaries of biodiversity and also the greatest threats to it, IUCN cannot ignore the social, economic or political context within which its scientific findings have to be translated into policy and action, but the primary focus of the organisation has to be on living resources.

All presidents have a responsibility for representing IUCN at the United Nations, other international fora and with national governments. It has been very rewarding to carry the IUCN flag in the General Assembly, at the Rio +20 summit and so on where I think we – IUCN’s Director General and I – have been able to build significantly greater visibility for the Union and for conservation.

One thing I hope to achieve by the end of the IUCN Congress in Jeju is to make younger people more central to the work of conservation and the Union. This is something I started on a little bit late in my term but I believe it is one of the most important things for our future.

A key challenge that remains, and one that we are making progress in tackling, is the dichotomy or the tension between the development and environment sectors. We need both. We need better conservation and the nurturing of our environmental resources and we need to eradicate poverty. Luckily the policies and actions needed for both tend to reinforce each other. You can’t eradicate poverty without bringing back natural resources and vice versa. This is where my work on holistic approaches to sustainable development can benefit from the rich experience gained over the past four years heading IUCN.

Ashok Khosla was elected IUCN President by the 2008 World Conservation Congress for a four-year term and he will preside over the Members’ Assembly during next IUCN Congress, taking place from 6 to 15 September in Jeju, Republic of Korea. To learn more about Mr Khosla, visit

Work area: 
Global Policy
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