Moving the planet from tipping point to turning point

IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng outlines his vision for future conservation action and Congress outcomes in his speech at the opening ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress. 

IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng addressing the gathering at the opening ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress Photo: Maegan Gindi

Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen,

What a tremendous energy there is in this arena already. From the traditional chants to welcome us here to Hawaiʻi, this magical place of biodiversity, culture and beauty... to the powerful words from Governor Ige, Senator Schatz and Secretary Jewel, our Hosts from Hawaii and the United States, President Remengesau and all of the other speakers.

I’d like to begin by saying how grateful we are to the people and government of the United States and the State of Hawaii for the warm welcome and the great arrangements that they have made for the IUCN World Conservation Congress in this beautiful and inspiring setting.

We said this IUCN World Conservation Congress, in 2016, is about moving 2015’s historic global agreements into action. And we are already doing it. Right now, on day one.

President Obama’s announcement that the US will be expanding the marine protected area around Hawaiʻi, already one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, has been a great way to set the scene. It sets a high bar for the rest of us to match over the next nine days, as we come together to define the path to a sustainable future.

Our planet is most certainly at a crossroads. The path we take as a global community, and how we choose to walk down that path in the next few years, will define humanity’s opportunities for generations to come. These decisions will also affect the boundaries of those opportunities. As we all know, there are limits to what our Earth can provide, and it is up to us to make the decisions today that will ensure those resources are still here tomorrow.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we must look after our Earth, our global commons, our future. We must understand that caring for them is not just about avoiding tragedy, it’s about recognising the great opportunity that they represent for all of us.

The commitments the world made last year, in particular the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, give me great hope. Many of you here today played significant roles in reaching those agreements, and we thank you.

As a global community, we’ve agreed on where we want to go, and it’s in the right direction. Now, it is up to us – all of us in this room – today and over the next nine days – to show the world HOW we are going to get there.

We all play important roles. As I look around this magnificent arena, I see those with the power to set ambitious new policies, harnessing the power of nature-based solutions, and I see the scientists standing ready to back them up. I see development professionals who understand that nature plays an essential role in helping achieve sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. We need nature, but the opposite is not true. I see those with the resources necessary, whether they be technical, financial or organisational, to start the new conservation and sustainable development initiatives the world needs. I see Indigenous peoples organisations, organisations that represent people who have not forgotten the central role that nature plays in our lives, in our societies, in our future. And I see the young people, the next generations of conservation leaders, standing ready to do their part now and to carry this good work far into the future.

This is the power of our Union. And this is our calling.

Every corner of the world is represented here today – 192 nations - together, right here, right now. Together, we have all of the pieces we need to show the world that we can reach the brave ambitions from 2015. Let’s seize this opportune moment in history to show that conserving nature and advancing human progress go hand in hand.

Those of us in this room, and the organisations we represent, have been doing great work on behalf of Nature for years, but we now know it isn’t nearly enough. We need to do more, and we need more allies to join us. Let us think about what we are doing now, and how we can multiply it by ten, or one hundred. This is what it is going to take to succeed. It is up to us to show them it can be done. It is up to us to show them how.

We have the right people here, together, in this inspiring place, with the knowledge, tools and influence to make a transformative difference, to take these bold steps to move the planet from tipping point, to turning point.

So our planet is indeed at a crossroads. To some, that may sound pessimistic. That’s because they are looking towards the horizon of the wrong road. Remember, at a crossroad, there are two roads to choose from, and the one we are walking down today and during these nine days is the road of determination and goodwill, and it leads to a world where human progress and environmental sustainability are one and the same.

Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to be bold. It is time for action. Together. So let’s do our part; let’s start down that high road; let’s get to work.

I now declare the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 open.

Thank you.

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