Did the World Parks Congress reach conservation goals?
The World Parks Congress (WPC) divided the categories of Parks and Protected Areas into 8 different ‘Streams’. Out of these, the most relevant to me was Stream 1: Reaching Conservation Goals. The aim of this stream was to demonstrate that a well-planned and effectively managed protected area system is essential to conservation.
On the final day, the session summarized all that had taken place over the week including key solutions that came out of the 53 sessions held. The concerns and threats that gained attention throughout the Congress and recommendations for addressing them were then contributed to a document titled “The Promise of Sydney”. This will be presented as a final report to governments, NGOs, businesses, extractive industries, and representatives from other sectors to make decisions for the future.
The content that emerged from the closing plenary ranged from immediate action towards reducing biodiversity loss to setting ambitious goals like ‘nature needs half’. This is in reference to Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 of conserving at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas. The audience (representing the conservation sector, protected areas, local, governmental and the scientific community) felt that the Congress should go beyond the Aichi Targets to ensure a healthy, vibrant ecosystem.
Specifically for protected areas, it was declared that the trend of downgrading, degazettement and downsizing was an unfortunate trend that displayed regress not progress! Successful case studies that demonstrated the use of privately owned protected areas were presented in order to get national recognition.
A whole day was set aside to discuss the increasing threat of illegal wildlife crime and poaching. Leaders of the world came together to unanimously agree that illegal wildlife crime was/will continue taking place at an unprecedented scale until governments show leadership. There has been some partnerships among governments, Intelligence agencies, local communities and NGOs but even so, organized wildlife crime remains a grave issue. A possible solution was presented in the form of technological innovations in spatial monitoring, tracking and gathering intelligence. One such application is the SMART approach introduced by the Wildlife Conservation Society along with 8 other partner organizations.
The final recommendations provided to the ‘Promise of Sydney’ involved:
1) Identifying locations that contained maximum biodiversity also known as Key Biodiversity Areas
3) Facilitating legal systems and supporting on the ground efforts for zero poaching
4) Increasing the quality of management in protected areas. This included measuring biodiversity outcomes in each protected area and using innovative tools that could help the front line staff (rangers and managers) to mobilize their resources effectively. This particular recommendation addressed one of the key issues by stating that it was not just the number of protected areas or the size of protected areas that was important but rather the effectiveness of the protected area in conserving species and providing ecosystem services. At present, only 24% of all protected areas are effectively managed.
5) Promoting Connectivity, Corridors and Landscapes as the next phase of conservation in protected areas. Isolated, protected areas will not survive or sustain. Measures of ecological restoration would help increase the connectivity in a landscape.
Throughout the Congress, I have been continuously inspired by the work of local organizations, conservation heroes: rangers, committed researchers and even, governments! A sense of optimism and hope emerged at the end of the closing plenary which makes me believe that the World Parks Congress did its best in reaching conservation goals. Now, it is up to us, all of us to do the best we can.