IUCN summit delivers major commitments to save Earth’s most precious natural areas

Sydney, Australia, Wednesday 19 November 2014 (IUCN) – The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014, the once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas, closes today with the release of The Promise of Sydney. The Promise sets out an ambitious agenda to safeguard the planet’s natural assets, ranging from halting rainforest loss in the Asia-Pacific and tripling ocean protection off Africa’s coasts to a business commitment to plant 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.

The Promise includes pledges from governments, international organizations, the private sector, Indigenous leaders, community groups and individuals, with many more still being recorded.

The document highlights the need to invigorate global efforts to protect natural areas, including scaling up the protection of landscapes and oceans. It includes commitments to boost investment in nature’s solutions to halt biodiversity loss, tackle climate change, reduce the risk and impact of disasters, improve food and water security and promote human health. It also aims to inspire people around the globe, across generations and cultures, to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas.

Protected areas are by far the best investment the world can make to address some of today’s biggest development challenges,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. The Congress has propelled major commitments from leaders across all levels of society to secure the benefits protected areas provide to humanity and ensure a sustainable future. Drawing on the collective knowledge of over five thousand top protected area experts – and many others who care about the future of our planet – the Promise of Sydney now captures innovative strategies to protect these exceptional places.

Organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and hosted by the Australian and New South Wales Governments, the Congress brought together more than 6,000 participants from over 170 countries.

Australia is proud to have co-hosted such a successful Congress and equally proud of our own commitments in the Promise of Sydney, says Greg Hunt, Australian Environment Minister. They range from banning capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef and a historic agreement with China to ban mining in Antarctica, to new initiatives to recover the rainforests of the Asia-Pacific and to halt species loss in our national parks. It has been an inspirational Congress – now it is time to deliver the innovative solutions to the challenges facing our planet.

The Promise of Sydney outlines a pathway for achieving the global target to protect at least 17% of land and 10% of oceans by 2020.

The Protected Planet report, launched in Sydney by IUCN and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), showed that while the world is on track to meet the target, more work is needed to ensure that areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are well and equitably managed. The Promise of Sydney also called for an urgent increase in ocean protection, including areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The meeting highlighted the need to scale up investment and the quality of governance and management of protected areas. Diversity, quality and vitality of governance emerged as a key prerequisite for ensuring the effectiveness and long-term success of protected areas. Delegates called for a stronger recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples through policies and management practices of protected areas. They acknowledged the critical role of traditional wisdom and management systems in long-term conservation outcomes and community well-being.

Best-practice examples of equitable governance were recognized by the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas – the first global standard set to define excellence in protected area management, presented at the Congress. This award was granted to 23 sites in Australia, China, Colombia, France, Italy, Kenya, Spain and South Korea, including a number of Indigenous Protected Areas. Croatia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal, Peru and Russia expressed their commitment to undergo the IUCN Green List assessment in the next phase of the initiative.

The Congress also highlighted the need to ensure that protected areas are established in the right places to prevent further species extinctions. The world’s largest-known earwig was among species declared extinct at the Congress by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, with the Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Chinese Pufferfish and American Eel among those listed as threatened due to the growing appetite for resources.

A key focus was on economic benefits and cost-effectiveness of conserving the world’s natural areas, including their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also called for new financing models to maintain them, combining public and private funding. Modern technology emerged as a new player in nature conservation, with the launch of Google’s underwater street view and a tool to track illegal fishing. NASA provided cutting-edge satellite imagery to improve the monitoring of protected areas.

The Promise of Sydney follows

Best-practice case studies showcasing how protected areas provide solutions to some of the world’s challenges have been captured in the Panorama database launched at the Congress and available here.

Key commitments include:

Australia committed to AUD2 million to boost threatened species protection in national parks; AUD6 million to support Coral Triangle marine protection; AUD6 million to combat illegal logging across the Asia-Pacific as well as new initiatives to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica.

Bangladesh committed to create the country’s first Marine Protected Area, Swatch of No Ground, to safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other oceanic species.

Brazil committed to protect 5% of its marine waters and to consolidate 60 million hectares of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon by 2020.

China committed to increase its protected areas territory by at least 20% and its forest area by 40 million hectares.

French Polynesia committed to create a new large-scale marine protected area initiative in the Austral Islands.

Gabon announced its decision to create a network of new marine protected areas equivalent to 23% of its marine waters. The 18,000 square mile (46,000 sq km) area includes a range of ecosystems and bars commercial fishing.

Japan committed to provide guidelines to protected area managers on disaster risk reduction.

The Republic of Kiribati signed an agreement with the United States of America to jointly conserve nearly 490,000 square nautical miles in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (Monument) in the United States and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati.

Madagascar announced plans to triple its marine protected areas and reported the achievement of commitments made ten years ago to triple its overall network of protected areas. Madagascar also announced a ‘zero tolerance’ approach in tackling illegal wildlife trade and called for international support to achieve this.

Panama committed to restore 1 million hectares of degraded lands within protected areas.

Québec, Canada, committed to protect 600,000 km² from industrial activity to conserve biodiversity.

Russia pledged to create 27 new federal Protected Areas and expand 12 existing ones.  It committed to increasing Marine Protected Areas by 28%. Russia also pledged to increase its marine protected areas to cover 17 million hectares. It also announced its plan to restore the once extinct Persian Leopard and establish two more wild roaming populations of the European Bison to bring the number of populations in Russia to 2,000 individuals.

South Africa, host of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2003, pledged to triple ocean protection in the next 10 years.

The U.S. National Park Service is also setting up a programme to engage 100,000 youth in US Protected Areas.

Elion Foundation and The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) announced the creation of a public-private partnership to reduce land degradation and increase the rate of restoration of degraded land. The partnership will include the planting of 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.

The United Nations Development Programme committed to mobilize at least US$100 million in support of the diversity and quality of governance of protected areas, including through the appropriate recognition and protection of indigenous and community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs), in at least 50 countries.

The Promise of Sydney Vision
Alifa Alwan Azra

Over 6000 participants from over 170 countries met at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where we met, we celebrated an enormous variety of inspiring ways of addressing the challenges facing the planet, through protected area approaches that respect and conserve nature, while benefitting human health and prosperity.  We recognized that rebalancing the relationship between human society and nature is essential, and that ecosystems and their variety of life fully support our existence, cultural and spiritual identity, economies and well-being.

We celebrate the expansion and improved governance and management of protected and conserved areas around the world, and the leadership and initiatives of many regions, including the first ever Asia Parks Congress, since we met in Durban in 2003. In particular, we laud the establishment of new marine protected areas, as healthy oceans are critical to life on earth and must be protected at much greater scale. We acknowledge the increasing role of Indigenous Peoples’, community, and privately-conserved areas and territories in reaching biodiversity conservation and societal goals, and the opportunities presented by new communication and other technologies to better understand and engage new constituencies, including young people in the world’s rapidly expanding cities. We commend numerous improvements of corporate practice, and the many success stories and varied partnerships across sectors for nature conservation and sustainability.

Despite these advances, we recognize that threats to nature, its biological diversity and protected areas are now at the highest level in human history, due to a convergence at immense scale of the impacts of human consumption patterns, population growth, and industrial activity.  Many protected and conserved areas are at risk or are poorly managed, and many rangers on the frontline have sacrificed everything for this cause. This reality must be faced directly, truthfully, and collaboratively. Bold vision and concerted action are required if we are to meet both conservation goals and human aspirations for current and future generations. There is no time to lose.

We, therefore:

Promise to INVIGORATE … our efforts to ensure that protected areas do not regress but rather progress. We will scale up protection in landscapes, wetlands and seascapes to represent all sites essential for the conservation of nature, especially in the oceans. We will enhance diversity, quality and vitality in governance and management, including the appropriate recognition and support of areas conserved by Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and private entities. We will strive to promote sustainable land-uses and eliminate activities and policies that degrade, threaten or result in extinction or the loss of ecosystems and their biodiversity, including the rampant illegal wildlife trade and the impact of invasive alien species.  We will recognize, respect, resource and support our frontline staff to do their often dangerous but always critical work.

Promise to INSPIRE … all people, across generations, geography and cultures to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas, to engage their hearts and minds and engender a life-long association for physical, psychological, ecological, and spiritual well-being.  We will motivate and engage a new generation of urban and rural communities, as an essential investment in the future of sustainability on the planet, and in the quality of life of people everywhere. Further, by working in partnership with and recognizing the long traditions and knowledge, collective rights and responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to land, water, natural resource and culture, we will seek to redress and remedy past and continuing injustices in accord with international agreements.

Promise to INVEST… in nature’s solutions, supported by public policy, incentives, tools and safeguards that help to halt biodiversity loss, mitigate and respond to climate change, reduce the risk and impact of disasters,  improve food and water security, and promote human health and dignity. We will work to enable protected and conserved areas and their stewards to design and monitor effective, evidence-based and culturally appropriate responses to these challenges and to provide a compelling case for increased recognition, incentives, capacity and direct funding.  We will encourage regional learning networks and initiatives that support these aims. We will collaborate with new partners to promote sustainable and equitable economies that respect planetary boundaries and social justice.