▲ From left, seated, Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the IUCN, Environment Minister Maanee Lee and Jeju Governor Kim Tae Hwan signing a memorandum of understanding confirming that Jeju will host the World Conservation Congress 2012. Photo courtesy Jeju provincial government. Inset, John Kidd, head of global communications for the IUCN, who was in Jeju to inspect the facilities for the international environmental congress. Photo by Darryl Coote
It’s now official. On Friday, March 5, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Korean Ministry of the Environment and the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province signed a memorandum of understanding that signifies their commitment to host the World Conservation Congress from Sept 6-15, 2012, at the Jeju International Convention Center.
Approximately 1,500 spectators were at the ICC for the signing by Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the IUCN, Environment Minister Maanee Lee and Jeju Governor Kim Tae Hwan.
Lee said that he hoped this congress would help to “combine people with nature.” After being given honorary Jeju citizenship, Lefevre said, “I love all these countries where I have citizenship, but I think Jeju is the most environmental.” She added, “Now Jeju is confirmed as being a leader in environmental conservation.”
The IUCN World Conservation Congress, established in 1948, occurs every four years and, as stated on their official website, “is the world’s largest conservation event.” The IUCN expects 6,000 to 7,000 leading scientists, conservationists, heads of state and chief executives from around the world to attend the 10-day event to discuss and implement environmental change and conservation.
The WCC will be comprised of two main components - a forum, which will be open to all, and the Members’ Assembly. The forum, “is like a big market place,” said John Kidd, head of global communications for IUCN, while in Jeju to inspect the facilities. It will have between 500 and 1,000 events, including small workshops and sessions, environmental cinema screenings, and arts and culture exhibitions. Members of the general public attending the forum will be able to mingle “with all these different people discussing the current issues with the environment.”
The Members’ Assembly “is a kind of a global environmental parliament that meets every four years,” Kidd said. Member organizations propose resolutions on conservation issues, which are debated and voted on by the assembly. These resolutions cover a diverse array of environmental issues from banning the fishing of blue fin tuna to the need to consult indigenous groups in Peru for mining development. “A lot of what comes through this parliament [the assembly],” Kidd said, “goes into national laws... and then often becomes inter-national law. Almost all of the conventions and laws on the environment, going back to the ‘50s, even the ’40s, come from an IUCN congress.”
Kidd said that in the past, the Members’ Assembly has been responsible for the impetus behind the Ramsar wetlands convention meetings and partly for the Copenhagen Summit on climate change, to name just a few of its accomplishments.
Though many are familiar with those names and acronyms, the IUCN may not be as well known. “We’re behind-the-scenes players,” Kidd said. Based in Switzerland, the IUCN consists of more than 1,000 independent organizations and 11,000 individual scientists and experts that work towards global environmental change.
Kidd believes that at this upcoming congress the main topic of discussion will revolve around and be influenced by the effects of the recent economic crisis on the global mindset. “There is some kind of fundamental shift happening,” he said. The ways that people use, restore and protect nature are all part of that shift. “There is a fundamental shift and what’ll it be in terms of environmental conservation and in terms of how our economy is structured and the way our society is structured,” will all be topics of discussion.
An event of this magnitude that involves many international conservationists flying to Jeju will create a large carbon footprint, and Kidd acknowledged that the IUCN takes this into account.
“There are very robust environmental criteria,” he said. “In Barcelona we had the carbon completely offset by a project in Egypt in terms of forest restoration.” Jeju would be a “green congress,” he believed. “We will have a lasting legacy on Jeju Island for the environment that will reduce carbon emissions on the island based on the carbon emissions used to come here.”
Jeju was selected to host the WCC on Nov. 26 of last year, edging out Cancun, Mexico. “The response from Jeju and Korea has been so overwhelming in terms of a whole range of things - the fact that through the Korean Parliament, 1.3 million citizens signed a petition, the fact that every single member of the Korean Parliament committed to support the congress,” Kidd said. “All of these things and many more show a very strong commitment from Korea and from Jeju to host this event.”
Other factors in Jeju’s favor were the island’s special visa regulations, the excellent convention and hospitality venues, accessibility and a strong infrastructure.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Kidd said, “and we are really happy for the support from the people of Jeju and from the government of Jeju as we work now over the next two and a half years to really make this the most amazing, but also the most useful environmental, global environmental, event that has ever happened.”
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