Thousands of people gathered in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress to talk about Earth’s ecosystems, endangered species and climate change.
The IUCN is the largest conservation organization in the world, consisting of about 1,300 governmental and nongovernmental organizations. The congress, which wrapped up Saturday, is a place for the group to set its agenda and debate environmental policy. This year, a record number of leaders from government, civil society, indigenous groups, business and academia converged on Oahu to discuss a “planet at a crossroads.”
Sometimes called the “Olympics of conservation,” for the first time in its 68-year history, the congress, held every four years, was convened on U.S. soil. ClimateWire has the highlights.
1. Giant panda moved off endangered species list
On Sept. 4, the IUCN announced it was moving the iconic giant panda off its endangered species list, downgrading it to “vulnerable.” The group praised the Chinese government for its forest restoration and reforestation efforts, citing them as the main reason behind the slowly rising panda population.
Data from the Chinese State Forestry Administration estimate there were 2,060 wild pandas across China in 2015, and evidence shows populations in many areas stabilizing and expanding.
But scientists cautioned that despite the progress, climate change could eliminate more than 35 percent of China’s bamboo forest by 2080. That’s not good news for a creature whose only source of food is bamboo.
That aside, the decision about the giant panda was the highlight of the session. The congress had darker news for four of the six species of great apes, which were announced as being “critically endangered.” The group also reported that 87 percent of Hawaii’s native species are threatened by invasive species.
2. Oceans are warming, and the threat is underreported
More than 80 scientists concluded in a report released during the session that the oceans have taken up 93 percent of the warming created by humans since the 1970s. To put that in perspective, if the heat generated between 1955 and 2010 had gone into the Earth’s atmosphere instead of the oceans, temperatures would have jumped by nearly 97 degrees Fahrenheit, the report said.
“Ocean warming may well turn out to be the greatest hidden challenge of our generation,” said Dan Laffoley, marine vice chairman of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN.
“We now know that the changes in the ocean are happening between 1.5 and 5 times faster than those on land,” he added in the report. “Such range shifts are potentially irreversible, with great impacts on ecosystems.”
The report found that ocean warming is affecting a multitude of ocean processes, including breeding and migration patterns of ocean species such as plankton, whales and fish.
Oceans were a central theme of the 10-day congress. President Obama spoke with leaders of Pacific island nations on the eve of the gathering and praised their commitment to raising awareness about the effects of climate change (Greenwire, Sept. 1).
Obama’s statements came one day after he announced he was quadrupling the size of the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument. He said climate change is one reason behind his decision.
3. IUCN’s next agenda to focus on forests, oceans, using native knowledge for conservation
IUCN’s members adopted more than 100 resolutions and set a course heavy on protecting ecosystems in a world guided by the first global agreement on climate change. The resolutions do not affect policy directly, but the group’s members, which include 217 state and government agencies and more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations, can use them to coordinate regional agendas.
Notable resolutions include a decision urging all governments to close domestic markets for elephant ivory. Another would protect intact land from palm oil expansion with consultation from indigenous communities. Still another would put all land classified under any of IUCN’s categories of protected areas off-limits to industrial and infrastructure activities, similar to the policy at U.N. World Heritage sites.
Charles Barber, director of the Forest Legality Alliance and a longtime attendee of the World Conservation Congress, said the tenor of the congress this year was action-oriented. It was the first session since both the Paris climate agreement and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals were finalized.
“A lot of people feel like it’s been a lot of years of talking and negotiations at the international level, and we don’t need any more grand negotiations right now; we need to implement what has been agreed upon,” he said. “People are very much in the mode of ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and make these things work.’”
Other notable announcements include a commitment by Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) to protect 30 percent of the state’s high-priority watershed forests and to manage 30 percent of the state’s nearshore waters by 2030. Hawaii will also double its food production and hit 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, Ige said.
Colombia announced it would quadruple the size of the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, while Malawi and Guatemala added commitments to the Bonn Challenge, a multinational initiative to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2050.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net. Click here for the original story.