IUCN World Parks Congress kicks off in Sydney

Eight days, close to 5000 participants and a countless number of interesting sessions, panel discussions and other activities - the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney kicks off on Thursday with several high level addresses that highlight the global significance of protected areas. The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasised the pioneering role protected areas, such as the iconic Great Barrier Reef, can play in balancing the need for conservation and sustainable economic development while the US Secretary of the Interior and the President of the Pacific Island state Kiribati both felt hopeful as regards the new US & China climate agreement on cutting carbon emissions and its positive implications to biodiversity conservation. The UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner underlined that protected areas are not – and should not be perceived - a burden to tax payers but a possible great return for investment. He also foresaw that the outcomes of Rio+20 and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will play a key role for framing future context for PAs and their management.

On the other hand, the UNEP’s Protected Planet Report launched on the same day concluded that, while the world is proceeding to meet the agreed 2020 target on the expansion of global protected area network, more work needs to be done to ensure that areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are appropriately prioritised for conservation. For example, only 22-23% of different globally identified important areas for biodiversity (Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites) are completely covered by protected areas with on average less than half of each site currently under any kind of protection. Also, management effectiveness, ecological connectivity and equity aspects leave quite a lot to be desired for.

After setting the scene it will now be interesting to see how - and to what extent - the hoped inspiring outcomes for the congress will help to bridge the gap between the high level policy aspirations and on-the-ground reality.