Honolulu, Hawaii—The thunder of drums, the outstretched arms of hula dancers, and blessings chanted in the ancient language of Hawaii marked the opening of the World Conservation Congress, the largest environment and nature conservation event in the world.
“Like the Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe, we are one canoe, one island, one planet,” said David Ige, Governor of Hawaii, at the opening ceremony at the Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. “We need to change the downward trajectory of our natural resources, in Hawaii and around Island Earth."
The congress brings together more than 9,000 people from some 184 countries to tackle some of the world’s most serious environmental problems. The congress is held every four years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest conservation organization.
Planet at the Crossroads
Themed “Planet at the Crossroads,” the conference acknowledges that the health of the environment has reached a tipping point. Facing crises such as climate change, depleted forests, impoverished fisheries, and species declining to the brink of extinction, humans can choose to continue their current destructive practices, or change their behavior to restore and steward the planet’s life-giving systems.
The plight of islands
Islands face many of the most extreme environmental problems. For example, the rise of sea level in a warming world are submerging entire island nations, while invasive species are accelerating the decline of their native biodiversity.
Obama addresses delegates
These factors make Hawaii a particularly appropriate host for the 2016 congress. This meeting is also first time in the 68-year history of the IUCN that the congress has been hosted by the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama recognized the need for nations to work together to begin healing the world’s natural systems. He addressed a meeting of congress delegates and Pacific Island leaders Wednesday during a stopover in Honolulu.
"If you want to row a canoe, every oar has to be moving in unison. Otherwise, I don’t know, you go in circles," Obama said. "When it comes to climate change, there’s a dire possibility of us getting off course."
The president stopped in Hawaii just a few days after creating the world’s largest marine protected area in the northwest Hawaiian Islands. Created in 2006 by President George W. Bush, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is nearly four times the size of California. Obama spent Thursday traveling to Midway Atoll to visit the marine reserve he had just expanded.
The first five days of this year’s September 1–10 congress involves workshops, talks, posters, and other opportunities for attendees to learn and network. The meeting closes with the members’ assembly, where delegates discuss and vote on motions that call for nations and other groups to take specific actions. Delegates includes government and civil society organizations from more than 160 countries. Its decisions have a powerful influence on the policies of nations and other large organizations.
The NRS presents
The UC Natural Reserve System will showcase its participation in international conservation efforts at the congress. The NRS seeks to connect with others seeking UC expertise and energy in conservation projects, and to share how the world’s largest university-administered reserve system makes natural landscapes available for scientific study and education.
NRS activities include presenting a poster that describes the organization’s international initiatives. These include raising awareness of Mediterranean-climate ecosystems, enabling California climate change research through UC's Institute for the Study of the Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts, participating in the United Nations' Biosphere Reserve initiative, and improving reserve management techniques via our nascent sister reserve program.