Some conservationists spend weeks camping in remote rainforests setting camera traps to catch a rare glimpse of a jaguar or giant tapir.
When they get the chance, they jump from hovering helicopters onto isolated mountaintop cloud forests, where they spend countless hours, day and night, looking for yet-unnamed plants or animals.
It isn’t often that these intrepid scientists find themselves among 8,000 like-minded people. Yet, whether they spend most of their time knee-deep in mud or are traveling from corporate boardroom to indigenous village to create new partnerships – conservationists of all stripes will be in Barcelona, Spain, from October 5 to 14 for the World Conservation Congress (WCC).
Every four years, the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) hosts the WCC to bring together conservationists and their partners for a marathon of information sharing, collaboration and direction-setting. This year marks the gathering’s 60th anniversary.
“This meeting is like the Olympics for conservation,” says Russell A. Mittermeier, CI president and chair of the IUCN Primate Special Group. “This is really the only time that all of the key players in conservation come together in one place for such an intense global discussion. In addition to putting a spotlight on urgent environmental issues, the WCC lays the groundwork for the next four years of working together to find solutions.”
The Congress is taking place at the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona (CCIB), located on the Mediterranean shore.
A four-day Forum hosting 800 events opens the Congress, allowing participants to present cutting edge thinking and practices on issues such as climate change, ecosystem protection and human welfare and global species conservation.
Following the Forum, NGO members and government representatives gather for the WCC General Assembly to consider more than 100 resolutions and recommendations and to establish a program to guide the Union for the next four years.
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CI will present almost 40 events, ranging from sessions on engaging indigenous peoples in climate change to making the link between biodiversity conservation and freshwater services.
Along with IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and the Environmental Agency – Abu Dhabi, a government organization of the United Arab Emirates, CI is also co-hosting the Forum’s Biodiversity Pavilion, showcasing the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s most comprehensive assessment of species conservation status.
Thomas Brooks, CI vice president in the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, points out that the WCC will be one of the last major conservation meetings before 2010, the deadline set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss.
“This Congress can set the stage for 2010 by recommending actions to efficiently move the world towards this target.” Brooks explains. “Some actions will be tightly targeted specifics, such as protecting the world’s 595 sites identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as holding the entire population of a highly threatened species.”
Another means to help attain the CBD goal is through international policy interventions, such as mitigating climate change. Particularly important for this is incorporating tropical forest protection into the treaty that succeeds to the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. climate change agreement in effect until 2012.
The current agreement does not address deforestation, though the burning and clearing of forests is a source of about 16 percent of all greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, surpassing emissions from all the world’s cars, trucks, trains and planes combined.
“If Barcelona can stimulate such actions, it will have been a success,” Brooks says.
LEARN MORE: Species are threatened in many ways. Find out about the threats and what we can do to protected endangered plants and animals.