A new level of pan-Asian cooperation and progress towards a comprehensive and world class Asian protected area system has been heralded with the inaugural meeting of the WCPA Asia Steering Committee this month in Bangkok.
The Steering Committee meeting was the realization of a process to harmonize WCPA’s regional structure with that of the IUCN Secretariat. For the first time, the work of WCPA and that of IUCN Asia’s Regional Protected Areas Programme will align geographically. Previously, the Commission has operated with three separate regions across Asia – South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. The significance of this goes beyond administrative convenience, as it will considerably strengthen the capacity of WCPA and IUCN’s Secretariat, Members and Partners to work on a seamless, single programme of protected area action across Asia.
The size and extraordinary diversity of Asia presents many unique challenges and opportunities. Balancing the protection of vital biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics with the needs of 60% of the world’s people oscillates between a seemingly impossible challenge and an attainable dream of sustainability. WCPA Asia faces this difficult task across some of the wealthiest and poorest nations on earth.
Professor Seong-il Kim of Seoul National University has been appointed WCPA Asia’s Regional Vice Chair, in addition to his recent appointment as an IUCN Councillor. In his role as WCPA Asia’s Regional Vice Chair, Professor Kim will be ably supported by Deputy Regional Vice Chairs Professor Yoshitaka Kumagai (Akita International University, Japan), Dr Vinod Mathur (Wildlife Institute of India) and Dr. Sunaryo (Indonesian Ministry of Forestry). A network of national coordinators will be convened to support the WCPA Asia Steering Committee in its work which, by and large, takes place at the country level.
Under Professor Kim’s direction, WCPA Asia will strive to provide leadership on protected area issues across Asia, effectively addressing existing and future challenges and position Asia as a centre of excellence for contemporary protected area management. Working under IUCN’s Intersessional Programme 2009- 2012 WCPA will support the goal of establishing a network of ecologically representative, well managed protected areas Asia wide.
The Steering Committee’s first meeting brought together regional experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing WCPA Asia and to share experiences and information on protected area management across the region. The discussion drew out key areas of focus for WCPA Asia including climate change, landscape connectivity and governance reform. These will soon be formalised in a WCPA Asia Strategic Plan emphasising achievable and realistic actions.
The Steering Committee also began defining its management and operational structure. In one of its first acts, the WCPA Asia Steering Committee will establish a secretariat in Korea. Unique amongst the WCPA regions, this secretariat will provide much needed back up to the work of the Commission.
Following its first meeting, WCPA Asia’s next steps will be to formalise its regional structure, develop a strategic plan and begin plans to bring all WCPA Asia members together in an inaugural Asia Parks Congress.