On 1 September, the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova participated in the IUCN World Conservation Congress opening ceremony, in the presence of several Heads of State of the Pacific Islands, Ms. Sally Jewell, US Secretary of State of the Interior and Senator of Hawaii, Mr Shatz.

Irina Bokova held several bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Conservation leaders, where she highlighted the role of UNESCO to foster education for sustainable development, scientific cooperation for nature preservation and the protection of natural heritage.

In his address to the opening of the World Conservation Congress, Governor of Hawaii, Mr David Ige mentioned the legacy of the Island in voicing the need for a new commitment for nature preservation

“Hawaii is blessed by thousands of species found nowhere else in the planet, but today these species and the ecosystem they depend on are in peril,” he said.

“Hawaii is sometimes referred to as the endangered species capital of the world and the people of the islands know too well the limits of the environment and feel the consequences: we are a microcosm of planet earth,” he continued, describing initiatives taken by the State of Hawaii to move towards clean energy, with a goal to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2025.

Ms Sally Jewell, US Secretary of State for the Interior, spoke of nature conservation as “the forever business”, aimed at future generations.

She highlighted the recent decision of President Obama to create the world’s largest marine preserved area, building on the UNESCO World Heritage site Papahānaumokuākea.

“We must listen to the voices and knowledge of indigenous people – especially islands people,” she added, highlighting the need to bring together the wealth of knowledge from different sources, experts, NGOs, Intergovernmental organizations.  

Throughout her participation in the Congress, Irina Bokova underlined the need for a collaborative approach among education specialists, scientists and environment activists.

“The challenge of climate change calls for integrated solutions, combining the power of education, cultural diversity and the sciences, including indigenous knowledge – conservation is about education and this is the spirit of UNESCO’s work,” she said in a bilateral meeting with Prince Albert II of Monaco, when they explored ways to strengthen cooperation on ocean science, marine world heritage and the protection of the Arctic.

Senator Shatz expressed reasons for optimism, as global political will continues to rise: “For the first time, it looks like many of the world leaders get it, as shown by the recent adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, and leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists begin to understand that it is cheaper and smarter to deal with climate change than to rebuild after yet another storm,” he said.

The Director-General voiced the same approach for prevention and disaster risk reduction, focusing on the key role of prevention to strengthen the resilience of societies in response to climate change, in two high level panel discussions on 2 September, on “Planet at the Crossroads” and “Rethinking Conservation” with World Wildlife Fund.

“All people need to paddle in unison”

The President of Palau shared the same positive approach, based on concrete and recent results and initiatives: “The economy is our environment, and our environment is our economy,” he said, referring to his own country, where 80% of the ocean territory is protected.

“Palau demonstrates that we can have a big impact on ocean protection – today less than 2% of the ocean is protected. It should be 30% if we want to protect the future of fisheries, to sustain jobs and economies and the biodiversity that we depend on,” he said, while calling for international cooperation:

“In a canoe, to reach the destination, all people need to paddle in unison”.

In the same spirit, Eric Solheim, Executive Director of UNEP recalled that “even the UN is too small to tackle the challenge we face”, commending the work of the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, to bring together all expertise from the United Nations.