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The promise of Sydney


In November 2014, the IUCN-World Conservation Union convened the World Parks Congress, a once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas, in Sydney, Australia.

I was supposedly scheduled to present an electronic poster in one of the thematic sessions of the congress, but I was forced to withdraw my presentation a few days before the event due to some personal circumstances. The topic I prepared was on developing alternative conservation modality supportive to the protected areas system in the Philippines. It is based on my experience in conceptualizing and implementing the pioneering local conservation areas in the Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province.

The theme of the congress was “Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions,” with more than 6,000 delegates from over 170 countries. The congress closed with the release of the document titled “The Promise of Sydney,” that outlines an ambitious agenda to safeguard the planet’s natural assets, including the halting of rainforest loss in the Asia-Pacific, tripling of the ocean protection off Africa’s coast, and business commitment to plant 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.

According to the organizers, the pledges came from governments, international organizations, private sector, indigenous leaders, community groups, and even individuals. IUCN director-general, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, was quoted in the website of the congress to have said, “Protected areas are, by far, the best investment the world can make to address some of today’s biggest development challenges”. She added, “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 5,000 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”.

The “Promise of Sydney”, as posted in the congress’ website, underscored the importance in invigorating global efforts to protect natural areas, particularly in scaling up the protection of landscapes and oceans. It provides commitment 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 to promote the health of the people.

These are all the services offered by the different protected areas in the world. The final document of the congress further aims to inspire people around the globe, across generations and cultures, to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas. Most of the world’s remaining natural areas are usually found in national parks and other forms of protected areas.

The “Promise of Sydney” specifically enumerates pathways to achieve the global target in protecting at least 17 percent of land and 10 percent of oceans by 2020. According to the organizers, 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 key prerequisites for ensuring the effectiveness and long-term success of protected areas, the statement from the congress declared. Delegates also 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 wellbeing.*

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