It had been a long week for Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She had left her home of Geneva, Switzerland on Sunday Sept. 18 to attend meetings in Ottawa, Canada on Monday, then New York. After more meetings, this time with the UN, she flew to Washington on Wednesday, only to disembark from there Thursday for the long journey to Jeju. On Sept. 24, at Sareuhni Forest, Jeju City, she conducted a discussion with various local women leaders.
During the discussion she fielded questions and spoke with optimism and joy on issues like the need to spread “the value of nature to people who can only think in money terms,” and the importance of women leaders “to show the way” through promoting the use of renewable energy.
After the 40-minute session she took a walk through the forest and spoke with The Jeju Weekly about how she stays so positive and upbeat about such a daunting subject: saving the environment.
“It would certainly be understandable if we all decided to stay in bed every morning because it was pretty challenging, the problems in front of us,” she said. “I am basically ... an optimist and I think if I get up and I try really hard and get other people to work with me then maybe we’ll be able to find solutions.”
Marton-Lefèvre says her optimism derives from her experience seeing people come together to tackle large problems, like at the 1992 United Nations Conference of Environment and Development in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. She explained, “[it] was a time when the world decided to understand that environment is linked to human well-being or human development.”
Though admitting there has not been as much progress since 1992 as there could have been, she points to Jeju as evidence that the world is changing for the better. “... People are actually talking about these [environmental] issues. I don’t think 10 years ago Jeju would have been so excited about having a World Conservation Congress, but now look at all these people who are interested.”
The congress Marton-Lefèvre is speaking of is the World Conservation Congress (WCC), the world’s largest environmental gathering, held every four years by the world’s largest environmental organization, the IUCN, which she heads. In a year’s time Jeju will play host to the WCC as well as roughly 10,000 environmental experts and congress participants.
She said she is excited about this congress because, for the first time, it will be held in East Asia and will take place outside a capital city.
“I think that there will be a lot of new blood coming in and discussing these issues rather than the people who are already convinced ... I think if I were a Jeju citizen, I would be pretty excited about all these people coming who have never heard of Jeju before.”
Marton-Lefèvre became IUCN director general in 2007, and with her first term ending soon said she will allow the torch to pass on at the end of her next term. “... It is a very time consuming job so maybe eight years is enough,” she said.
Some of the accomplishments achieved during her time in the position is that the image of the IUCN has become more diversified. She elaborated that the organization has truly become international and not a largely male-orientated “Anglo-Saxon” group. It now offers three official languages to deliver a “different cultural voice.”
The other major accomplishment is the success in getting the message across that the human race cannot afford to take the environment for granted. “The other thing is that I think we have really introduced the concept, throughout the IUCN and our parts, that nature is the life support, and it’s absolutely our well-being depends on it,” she said. And the future? “I would love to have every citizen around the world decide they realize that what they’re depending on comes from nature and that if we destroy it, it’s just like committing suicide.”
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