The 2014 World Parks Congress Begins

The 2014 World Parks Congress Begins

“Welcome to aboriginal lands.” It begins with streaming light patterns projected on the walls, tropical rainforest creatures calling out over the sound system, and traditional aboriginal dancers passing along the aisles in the old Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia.

Paying tribute to the original stewards of the land was a prominent theme in the opening ceremony to this World Parks Congress (WPC). Cheers rang out from the roughly 5,000 delegates in attendance as certain indigenous groups were named, delegates who will soon attend the hundreds of events following the opening ceremony. With over 160 nations represented, including many First Nations, this 6th World Parks Congress will be the largest yet. Some of its attendees have been waiting years for this event, which only happens once every 10 years.

A decade ago in the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa, goals were set for increases in quantity and quality of protected areas worldwide.  The World “Parks” Congresses are not exclusive gatherings: its range extends to all “protected areas” including any land set aside for conservation purposes, from historic national parks to local green spaces.  This year, the conservation goals will include action plans for meeting the Aichi Targets, which include:

  • increasing global terrestrial protected areas from 13% (current) to 17%
  • increasing global marine protected areas from 3% (current) to 10%.

Easy numbers to declare; no small task to protect. Part of the 2014 WPC will offer a review of what techniques were helpful in achieving previously-quantified goals as well as an analysis of why some challenges were not overcome so that well-informed action plans can be created to achieve these newer goals.

The 2014 WPC will also be a time to reflect on changes made since the previously youth-focused WPC, which was declared as such by the event Patron and post-apartheid president of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela. Youth were again given space to speak, especially through the resounding reflections by a great grandson of Mr. Mandela. The recognition of indigenous people as traditional custodians of the lands, though, was the noticeably thick thread woven into nearly every speech during this welcoming session.

Among the 5,000+ delegates to the 2014 WPC, the majority of whom attended the opening ceremony, were 15 students from the F&ES course, “International Organizations and Conferences and Organizations.” We are each either presenting or contributing to projects with conservation non-profits like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wildlife Fund. Projects range from promotion of the Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool (SMART), which was created by a WCS partnership to address wildlife crime, to informational sessions on the detrimental effects of small-scale gold mining.

While each project presented at the congress has been slated to fall under certain information streams within the 2014 WPC’s tagline of “Parks, people, planet: inspiring solutions,” the connections among those streams will the igniting fuel for discussion over the next seven days, which will in turn hopefully provide solid, achievable actions for the future.

(Photo courtesy of Danielle Lehle)