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The IUCN World Conservation Congress: What’s in it for freshwater biodiversity?

September 3, 2012

As London remains captivated by the world’s biggest sporting event, South Korea is gearing up for conservation’s equivalent – the IUCN World Conservation Congress. This article discusses how freshwater biodiversity will fare. Will it be gold for freshwater biodiversity or will it again be left behind?

Members’ Assembly at the IUCN Congress. Photo courtesy of IUCN.

Held once every four years, but not quite on the same scale as the Olympics, the IUCN congress is the world’s biggest and most important conservation event. From 6-15 September Jeju, South Korea will host leaders from government, UN agencies, business, industry and civil society organizations to debate and (hopefully) decide on solutions to the world’s most pressing environment and development challenges.

IUCN Congress Logo and Slogan. Photo courtesy of IUCN

The theme of this year’s congress is ‘Nature+’: a theme intended to capture the “fundamental importance of nature and its inherent link to every aspect of our lives”. The IUCN World Conservation Congress will be centred around five key areas which reflect the IUCN’s priorities for the coming years and build on the theme ‘Nature+’:

– Greening the world economy (nature+ development)
– Conserving and valuing nature (nature+ life)
– Sharing nature’s benefits (nature+ people & governance)
– Nature-based solutions to climate change (nature+ climate)
– Managing ecosystems to improve food security (nature+ food)

While freshwater biodiversity issues could fall under each of the above five areas, just how much attention will actually be given to freshwater ecosystems in Jeju? The IUCN has received 176 motions to be discussed and decided upon at the congress. While the themes shape terms of reference for the congress, it is these motions that give the best indication of what issues will be discussed. And the news certainly looks more promising than in Rio.

Out of the 176 motions submitted, 11 are directly relevant for freshwater biodiversity conservation, many of which appear very promising. However, freshwater biodiversity gets few explicit mentions. According to Will Darwall, manager of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, “freshwater biodiversity is not that well represented [at the congress] unfortunately – much of the focus is on environmental flows etc., but not specifically on freshwater biodiversity.”

But attention is being paid to issues relevant to freshwater biodiversity ranging from increased protection of wetlands in South America and Africa to further steps to combat the amphibian crisis. Of interest, the threat to oasis ecosystems is identified as an emerging issue – a topic that was recently discussed here. The congress will also provide a platform for a number of Korean NGO’s to highlight the environmental issues of the ‘Four Major Rivers Restoration Project‘ in South Korea.

Perhaps the most significant motion that will be discussed is the proposal to establish a regional organisation in Asia for the management of aquatic ecosystems. The proposal seeks to establish a regional governance model for coordinating the monitoring and management of cross-boundary freshwater, coastal, estuarine and marine ecosystems to conserve biodiversity, maintain sustainability, and build resilience in the face of climate change, overfishing, anthropogenic intervention and environmental accidents.

Another interesting proposal, which complements the aims of BioFresh, is a motion that calls for the development of a data system for data collection and publication linking biodiversity and protected areas. It aims to collaborate with and strengthen complimentary initiatives, the BioFresh Project being one such potential initiative.

While not the gold medal that might be hoped for, freshwater biodiversity does get a look in at next week’s congress, although unfortunately not many explicit focus. The 11 motions appear promising, and there are many more motions that may be indirectly relevant for conservation of freshwater ecosystems, such as the development of an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. Whether these motions will lead to any concrete outcomes, though, remains to be seen. We hope that in the future, all citizens around the world wont have to depend on Home water filters like Pure Water Patriot to make water potable.

We will be posting an overview and summary of all the motions relevant to freshwater biodiversity here tomorrow, so stayed tuned!

Will Bibby is currently completing a Masters (MPhil) in Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford.

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