Introduction to the 2011 Annual Report: Message from the IUCN President and Director General:
Each passing year seems to bring ever greater challenges to our world. Escalating shocks from our changing climate, vanishing species, continuing poverty and rising social inequality, collapsing financial markets and growing unemployment in rich countries, and fluctuating and uncertain growth in poorer ones are all keeping politicians, scientists, business people and conservationists busy.
As IUCN gears up for its next four-year programme of work, from 2013 to 2016, some in the conservation community may feel overwhelmed. These challenges are very real and very serious. But there is hope, and a growing understanding that good conservation offers effective and valuable solutions.
Indeed, while our Union will always continue to vigorously defend threats to natural ecosystems and the plant and animal species that depend on them, including humans, we now go a long way beyond the usual calls for protection, risk reduction and charity.
Nature does not deserve our fear nor beg our pity. Nature is not a victim; nature is part of the solution. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s famous inauguration address, we should not only be asking ourselves what we can do for nature; we should in fact also be asking what nature can do for us.
This often runs against conventional wisdom. As the global economic contraction erased $2.5 trillion from balance sheets, cash-strapped governments scaled back spending, even in such essential investments as biodiversity conservation. Our work in 2011 and years past however reveals a deeper truth: far from being a luxury, nature conservation is, economically and socially, a crucial part of the solution.
Peat bogs filter and purify water for us. Coral reefs become storm-buffering breakwaters. Mangroves form sea walls that protect shorelines and communities from natural disasters. Braided floodplains work as dikes and levees and increase crop productivity. Riparian trees form ‘cooling towers’ for overheated currents. Healthy wetlands treat industrial effluent. Restored forested slopes trap sediment. Well-managed estuaries boost food security, jobs and incomes for millions. Nature does all this for us and, if properly nurtured and maintained, it does so largely for free.
Nature-based solutions leverage support, commitment and resources from other sectors for biodiversity conservation – finance, trade, labour, energy, health, transportation and education to name but a few. Nature based solutions offer the conservation community a proactivechoice to help the world deal with issues such as food security, climate change and economic and social development, while at the same time alleviating long-term pressures on our natural resource base.
Our activities in 2011 further reinforced our knowledge that nature-based solutions work, because during the past year we were able to see major results from pioneering efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation in forests, wetlands, drylands, coastal zones and protected areas.
Of course 2011 continued to bring new challenges inside IUCN. How to get the greatest positive impact from a highly diverse and growing union of more than 1,200 member organizations and 11,000 volunteer experts is a perennial issue and a tantalizing opportunity. A rapidly changing funding landscape called for a new business model, and big investments in IT infrastructure had to be managed.
Inspired by the One Programme Charter, our globally distributed Secretariat has embraced new ways of working together, better connecting the Secretariat to IUCN’s Members, Commissions and partners. For the first time ever, we brought Members together in eleven Regional Conservation Forums during 2011 to look at achievements and future programmes of work. All of them gave high priority to conservation, governance and nature-based solutions.
Many of our global ecosystem restoration and management initiatives were expanded in 2011. Work began on setting up new knowledge products, including an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. And a new global resource planning system went live.
Looking back, we can be proud of what our Union delivered in 2011, as indeed we look back on 64 years of achievement as the world’s pre-eminent global environmental organization.
Looking forward, our world and our Union face some daunting challenges in 2012 and beyond. IUCN is ready, with a new Programme, a new business model and a renewed urge to harness the full power of the Union to mobilize the science and action that the world needs.
A major challenge in 2012 and beyond will be to strengthen IUCN’s role in global governance for sustainable development. In 2012, the international conservation and development communities meet in numerous events, including the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the UN conventions on biodiversity and climate change. We have a critical role in operationalizing global environmental governance, linking it more closely to effective and equitable natural resource governance on land and at sea.
Nature has an enormous, if often unseen, potential as a solution provider to some of our greatest challenges. We know conservation works. IUCN stands ready, more than ever before, to make these solutions happen across the board – in all sectors, all communities and all countries.
The support we continue to receive from all our constituencies – our Members, our Commission experts, our partners and our staff – is, as always, very much appreciated, and we look forward to working with all of you in the years to come.