HONOLULU (CN) — World and business leaders, indigenous peoples, scientists and conservation groups converged in Honolulu on Thursday for the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, days after President Barack Obama’s order expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine Monument in Hawaii’s Northwest Islands.
Held every four years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an environmental network created in 1948, the congress brings together leaders from different walks of life “to put aside differences and work together to create good environmental governance, engaging all parts of society to share both the responsibilities and the benefits of conservation.”
The opening ceremony Thursday morning featured Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana ‘opono Crabbe leading dancers from the Lalakea Foundation through the Blaisdell Arena to a darkly lit stage where kumu hula recited the Akahi Ka Mano, a migration chant in which the mano, or shark, recounts the ocean migrations of the native people to the Hawaiian Islands.
As powerful echoes of the traditional kahiko hula performance reverberated through the near-capacity arena, Crabbe struck the keynote:
“We find ourselves at a crossroads, pushed to the limit. But let us not despair. Men women and children with courageous hearts are taking a stand. Climate change is real and needs real solutions.”
He added, “Six days ago the president announced the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea — a real solution to a global problem.”
Palau’s president Tommy Remengesau took up the theme during his address, boasting of his country’s own marine sanctuary, roughly the size of Texas, plus an 80 percent no-take zone in Palau’s territorial waters.
“I say to President Obama: Good start. And when you join us with 80 percent of your EEZ, America will finally be ready to join the big leagues! A live shark over its lifetime is worth so much more than a dead shark.”
EEZ, or exclusive economic zone, refers to a sea zone prescribed by United Nations law over which a government has special rights over exploration and use of marine sources.
“Small island nations are charting their own way toward sustainable development, but it is only through global partnership that we can respond with the speed and the strength necessary to meet global challenges,” Remengesau continued. “Time is not on our side. Only 2 percent of oceans are protected; scientists tell us it has got to be 30 percent.”
During her time at the podium, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel said, “I think of my work as being in the forever business. In the American West, natural areas the size of a football field disappear every 2 1/2 minutes.”
Continuing in a global vein, Jewell mentioned melting glaciers, drought-beset savannas, imperiled Amazon rainforests, and dying coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
“Political and manmade borders are not enough to stop coral bleaching from entering an area,” she said, obliquely referencing the limitations inherent in monument designations, but then advocated a more holistic approach.
“Protect our natural places. Fund our economies. Restore out soils. Make us whole humans. We must take care of each piece of the puzzle,” she said. “I’m a business person. When you send clear signals, business will respond.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, echoed this sentiment.
“World leaders seem to be getting it: economic prosperity relies on environmental stewardship,” he said. “It’s cheaper to deal with climate change than have to clean up the mess later.”
Executive director of the United Nations Environment Program Erik Solheim sees a top-down solution.
“A single man in Mumbai went to look at the river and found pollution in the very place he expected to find beauty. So he began to organize. A single man was responsible for cleaning up all this garbage,” Solheim said. “All of us can be heroes.”
He continued, “In Paris an oil company said, ‘We will not drill in the Arctic.’ Another company developed an electric vehicle that can go 500 kilometers on a single charge. But more than the effort of people and companies, are countries.
“Brazil stopped deforestation by 80 percent. Costa Rica doubled tree coverage. An African country wants to create a middle class without harming nature.
“In China, who’s hosting the G-20 next week, they have a wind and solar green initiative. We humans need to be kind to mother earth. Don’t play the blame game. We are in this together,” Solheim said.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige rolled out his plan to “malama,” or care for, our natural resources.
Ige’s “Aloha Plus” sustainable initiative would protect ohia and koa trees, thereby protecting 30 percent of Hawaii’s highest priority watersheds by 2030. The plan would also manage 30 percent of near-shore reefs, also by 2030, create an inter-agency biosecurity plan to detect and control invasive species and achieve 100 percent renewable energy in the Aloha State by 2045.
“As an island we are a microcosm, but we are in one canoe,” Ige said, borrowing from the old Hawaiian proverb.
IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng touched on the conference theme in closing: “We are at a crossroads. There are two roads to walk down. We are walking down the good road. The conference is about moving the historical 2015 Paris climate agreement to action. It’s up to us to show the world how to get there.”
Indeed, as the conference moves into its main phase of dozens of tightly focused forums — covering everything from “Innovative Governance Approaches for the Sustainable Use and Management of Mangrove Ecosystems: The Experience of Ecuador” to “From Marsh to Medicine, From Forest to Handbag: How We Can Improve Livelihood Benefits from High Value Wildlife Trade Chains” — participants break out into their own little corner preserves and the challenge becomes “How.”
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, one agitated journalist questioning Schatz demanded to know how the marine monument is going to be managed. The senator gave a provisional answer that did not satisfy the reporter.
“But you haven’t answered my question,” the journalist said.
Schatz elaborated somewhat, to which the reporter asked, “But how?”
The exasperated senator replied, “It’s not that I know and I’m not telling you.”
Again the reporter — at this point clutching his head — said, “But you’re not answering my question.”
Conference attendees will try and find out the “hows” as the forums continue Friday.
- California Air Quality
- New Twist in Records Battle Over Nuclear Plant Closing