The WCC: Why Barcelona Will Be More Inspiring than Washington

In a few days I will be heading to Barcelona to attend the World Conservation Congress, the most important conservation event in the world. For me it will be a welcome relief from the tired energy debates that have consumed the past few months. In Washington, people are caught up in the political theater of an election cycle. But at the Congress, the work will be motivated by the mission: safeguarding the natural world and promoting sustainable development. 

I went to the previous IUCN congress in Bangkok four years ago and loved it. Imagine what it feels like to be gathered together with thousands of people committed to preserving the world's natural resources. These are the people who labor on the ground in national parks, conduct research, and staff government agencies. They don't need to be convinced that biodiversity and wilderness are of deep and abiding value. IUCN participants have already dedicated their life's work to that.

So instead of exhausting our energy trying to convince skeptics that Canada's Boreal Forest or Congo's lowland gorillas deserve protection, we can focus on the concrete measures and policies that will actually get the job done.

But our common ground is shrouded by a sense of urgency. These participants know all too well that pressures are mounting on our forests, oceans, and wild landscapes. The assaults are legion, but NRDC's delegation will be focusing on a few key priorities.

Preventing an Artic Gold Rush

This summer, I traveled by ship through the Arctic Ocean and saw firsthand the shadow global warming is casting over this glorious landscape. As the ice melts, oil, gas, fishing, and shipping companies are waiting to jump in and nothing is holding them back: there is no management regime for the open water in the Arctic. At the congress, I will lead a panel with other members of the Aspen Institute Commission on Arctic Climate Change looking at how we can shape an international governance structure.   

Blocking Harmful Development in NRDC's BioGems

NRDC has had great success protecting our BioGems--imperiled wild places in the Western Hemisphere--with a combination of grassroots activism and hard-hitting advocacy. At the congress, we will draw on international support to counter plans for a massive hydro-electric scheme in Chile's Patagonia. We will further our efforts to combat illegal logging in Peru's rainforests and other nations. We will be drawing attention to the dangers of tar sands development in Canada's Boreal Forest--home to millions of song birds. And we will call for support of Mexico's effort to protect the vaquita marina--the world's most endangered marina mammal--from illegal and harmful fishing in the Upper Gulf of California.

Creating Better Governance for the High Seas

The oceans are a shared resource, which is why the best way to safeguard them is through international agreements. NRDC has made great strides this year at the UN: we helped protect 62 million square kilometers of sea from the destructive fishing practice of bottom trawling. But we want to shield even more marine life, and hashing out policies at the congress will move us forward. 

I look forward to discussing these critical issues with the world's leading conservationists and scientists. We may have come from different nations and perspectives, but we all share the common goal of safeguarding the Earth's natural riches. How refreshing that will feel.