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IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 Highlights

The IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 wrapped up on 11 September 2021. After over a year of delays due to the pandemic, the one week event was held in a hybrid format in Marseille. The event was a chance to bring leaders from government, civil society, indigenous peoples, business, and academia together to brainstorm and tackle conservation issues. While many topics were raised during the Congress, the emphasis on the Green Status of Species and the rights of Indigenous People were of particular interest to ASAP. One of the main events was the quadrennial IUCN Council election which saw Razan Khalifa Al Mubrak elected as the new IUCN President and Jon Paul Rodriguez re-elected as the Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission. ASAP Strategic Advisor, Madhu Rao, was also elected to Chair the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. 

ASAP was honoured to have the opportunity to showcase the work we do as a partnership organisation during the IUCN WCC 2020. Together with Mandai Nature and EAZA, our speaker’s pitch which looked at building bridges between in situ and ex situ conservation for species conservation in Southeast Asia is available here. We also held a pre-recorded session at the Reverse the Red pavilion, looking at how partnerships can be used to save species from extinction. 

Credit: Angela Yang

In case you missed the Congress, this article brings you highlights from the events that took place over the week. 

An expansion from the Red List: The IUCN Green Status of Species was  highlighted during the Congress. The new assessment tool focuses on species recovery and recognises conservation success. Meanwhile, the latest update in the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM saw the list of Critically Endangered species in Southeast Asia grow once more. With the addition of six new freshwater turtles and four new fish species, the ASAP species list now sits at 266. 

The IUCN Green List Status of Species was highlighted to members of the IUCN during the Congress. While the Red List categories focus on how threatened species are, the IUCN Green Status of Species complements it by detailing progress towards full recovery of a species and the impact of conservation. The Green Status of Species framework classifies species into nine recovery categories as well as using four conservation impact metrics (conservation legacy, conservation dependence, conservation gain and recovery potential) to categorise the impact of conservation on a species.This serves as an important tool to incentivise conservation action and recognise impactful conservation efforts.

Preventing the extinction of species is the first critical step toward successful conservation, but recovery to a point where a species is fulfilling its ecological  functions throughout their range and is not dependent on conservation effort has to be our ultimate goal. The Green Status of Species introduces a standard way of evaluating progress towards this goal and the incremental impact of conservation action” said Barney Long, Senior Director at Re:wild, co-Chair of IUCN’s Green Status of Species Working Group, and ASAP Governing Council representative for Re:wild.

To date, nearly 200 species have been assessed. The Green Status of Species is an expansion of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the new Red List website profiling Green Status assessments was previewed at the congress. By assessing species based on extinction risk and recovery, and conservation’s impact, the full story of a species’ conservation status can now be shown. To find out more about the IUCN Green Status of Species, visit here.

Besides spotlighting the Green Status of Species, the Congress featured an update on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ which saw four new freshwater fish species from Southeast Asia newly listed as Critically Endangered. Freshwater fish are one of the most overlooked groups of animals with little targeted conservation action. To accelerate actions and bridge the gap in global conservation effort towards neglected freshwater fish species, ASAP is working with Shoal and Mandai Nature to create an action plan for ASAP fishes. The action plan will involve collating all available information on each species. With the expertise of our partners, clear, assigned, budgeted, practical steps for immediate and medium-term actions for ASAP fishes will be rolled out.

The IUCN Congress hosted the World Summit of Indigenous People and Nature, where members of the Indigenous People’s Organisation called for the recognition of their rights and governance through the Global Indigenous Agenda.

Indigenous people are at the heart of the land they live in. They have interacted with the natural environment for many years and developed cultural, spiritual and economic relationships with nature. Hence they play a crucial role in conserving the land they call home and its resources. 

This IUCN Congress, the Indigenous People’s Organisation presented the Global Indigenous Agenda proposal that aims to raise awareness and recognise the rights of indigenous people and their roles as stewards of nature. They issued a call for conservation organisations to direct their actions from ground up and collaborate with Indigenous people in decision-making processes. 

There are about 150 million Indigenous People in Southeast Asia. They are often displaced for economic development and/or criminalised by their traditional practices. In the Mekong region, the establishment of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) has led to rapid economic development. However, this was achieved at the cost of deforestation, loss of biodiversity and decline in the health of the rivers, and the Indigenous People are often the first to have felt these impacts.

To help stop biodiversity loss and protect our planet, we must therefore recognise the value of the Indigenous People. “Our global goals to protect the earth and conserve biodiversity cannot succeed without the leadership, support and partnership of Indigenous Peoples,” Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General highlighted.

We would like to congratulate the new IUCN Chair and Council elected: Razan Khalifa Al Mubrak has become the first woman from the Arab world to head the IUCN and Jon Paul Rodriguez has been re-elected as the Chair of the Species Survival Commission for a second term. 

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak is the Managing Director of Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. She has been a strong advocate of conservation and has led Abu Dhabi’s commitment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2030. With over 20 years of experience in the conservation scene, she now adds another title to her name as the new President of IUCN.

Speaking to Mongabay before she was elected, Razan outlined the four priorities she plans to focus on: build upon IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and the Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, strengthen collaboration between stakeholders to make conservation more relevant to people, maintain good governance and communication. 

“We need to better engage with business, government, civil society, and philanthropic communities and create effective collaborations across complex sectors of society,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak in the Mongabay interview

She added on the importance of having women in conservation.“Spotlighting the critical work of women conservationists will inspire more women to pursue a career in the field.” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak. The newly elected IUCN President also urged schools and universities to support women who are considering a career in conservation.

We would like to congratulate ASAP Strategic Advisor, Madhu Rao, who was elected Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. The Commission is a network of 2500 experts from over 140 Countries that creates knowledge-based policy, recommendations, and guidance on the wide range of issues surrounding Protected Areas and Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM). 

“My vision for the Commission is a dynamic and influential network, integrating its work across the wider IUCN to generate rigorous, innovative and practical solutions for a robust and effective, global PCA areas network. Working together with the members, I would like to increase the visibility and impact of the Commission as a global authority on protected and conserved areas.” said Madhu Rao in her first interview as the new Chair.

As the one-week event came to a close, the IUCN Congress saw a diversity of groups emphasise their commitment to drive action for global conservation. Common themes for achieving this align well with ASAP’s approach, including pursuing collaboration and partnerships, halting biodiversity loss, and respecting and harnessing perspectives from all stakeholders. 


New ASAP species:

6 freshwater turtle species 

Giant Asian Pond Turtle, Heosemys grandis

Forsten’s Tortoise, Indotestudo forstenii

Yellow Pond Turtle, Mauremys mutica

Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle, Mauremys sinensis

Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, Pelochelys cantorii 

4 freshwater fish species

Barbodes cataractae

Paitan, Barbodes manguaoensis 

Bulokot, Boroda expatria

Starrynose Cowtail Ray, Pastinachus stellurostris 

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