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Conserving the planet’s most valuable natural places andpromoting nature’s solutions to global challenges is the focus of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 taking place from 12 to 19 November in Sydney, Australia. 

Over four thousand participants, from Heads of State, Ministers and heads of international organizations, to park rangers, business executives and indigenous leaders, are expected to attend the Congress – a once-in-a-decade gathering on the world’s national parks, marine reserves and other protected areas. 

Covering over 14% of land and nearly 3% of the oceans, the world’s 200,000 protected areas conserve wildlife and unique cultures, support human livelihoods and are the foundation for a green economy. They provide drinking water to many of the world’s largest cities, keep climate change in check by storing vast amounts of carbon, sustain the burgeoning tourism industry, protect communities against disasters and bring a wide variety of health benefits, from preventing diseases to improving mental health.

Organized by IUCN, Parks Australia and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, with the theme “Parks, people, planet: inspiring solutions”, the Congress will showcase protected areas as the best investment in a sustainable future for our planet. 

Key issues:

  • Benefits beyond conservation: “Protected areas offer endless benefits that go far beyond the conservation of nature,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “What we hope to achieve at the Congress is to demonstrate the solutions offered by protected areas to our planet’s challenges, such as climate change, health, food and water security. We must place protected areas firmly at the centre of our economies and societies. What better investment could be made for our future than one that involves conserving our Planet’s most beautiful and most precious places?” 
  • PARKS: Protecting the Planet: “Despite the exponential growth of protected areas that we have seen over the past decades, many challenges remain,” says Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon and Patron of the IUCN World Conservation Congress. “There are too many gaps in their coverage and too many of them lack sufficient funding. Climate change, the escalating poaching crisis and conflicts on the ground – such as in many national parks across Africa – require particularly urgent action. In Sydney, we will tackle these issues in the search of better and fairer ways to conserve the exceptional natural and cultural richness of these places.” 
  • PEOPLE: Nature for people, people for nature: “Indigenous people and local communities are an integral part of protected areas and know best how to conserve them,” says Myrna Cunningham Kain, former Chair of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues and Patron of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014. “We must offer them the opportunity to fully participate in the establishment and every-day management of protected areas. We also need to secure the rights to the benefits that those places offer. If we fail to do this, we will not only fail to conserve precious natural resources but we will also lose the invaluable traditional knowledge and cultural values that these people have nurtured for centuries.” 
  • PLANET: A stronger voice for the oceans: Over the last decade – or since the last IUCN World Parks Congress in Durban – the area of oceans under protection has seen a dramatic increase, from under 1% to around 3% today,” says Dr Sylvia Earle, an American oceanographer and Patron of the IUCN World Parks Congress. “But 3% is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the immensity of the marine realm. We look forward to some major marine conservation pledges in Sydney – such as the one to create the world’s largest marine reserve made recently by U.S. President Obama. We do a good job of talking, but we need this talk to lead to results.” 
  • Inspire the young: “At the opening of the 2003 World Parks Congress, its Patron, the late South African President Nelson Mandela, challenged us by saying that: ‘...among those who are preoccupied with the future of protected areas, there are a great many grey heads and far too few youthful ones.’, says Trevor Sandwith, Director of the IUCN Protected Areas Programme. “We took this message to heart and gave young and inspiring personalities a central place at the Congress. We want to use their passion and energy to encourage the new generation around the world to connect with nature and make a conscious and serious investment in its future.” 
  • A new agenda: “Australia is proud to showcase its parks and protected areas to an unprecedented number of delegates,” says Sally Barnes, Australia’s Director of National Parks. “We sense a new energy to tackle global challenges and to put natural solutions at the centre of economic development and the health and wellbeing of our peoples.”
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