Conversation alone cannot deliver conservation on the ground. Not even good conversation.
Good conservation outcomes need hard work, mainly in the field. A conservationist's life is long hours of travelling to get there, longer hours of observation, even longer hours of analysis, deep thought and synthesis – and then more hours in the laboratory and the library, documenting and communicating. This does not mean that a life in conservation is tedious; on the contrary, its very nature is fun – but its primary fun is in nature.
Nevertheless, as for all professions, advancement of knowledge in conservation depends on sharing, critiquing, questioning, refining and honing ideas from research and for action through interaction with colleagues and peers from related and other disciplines. Modern communications have revolutionized the possibilities for such sharing but ultimately there is no substitute for physical encounters where researchers and practitioners can meet and exchange information on what they are doing.
The ultimate encounter is, of course, the periodic global congress that brings professionals together in large enough numbers to demarcate the current frontiers of knowledge, create collective benchmarks and establish connections and networks for future work. And there is nothing like such a congress to focus the mind of a professional by providing a formal audience, venue and deadline for presenting recent progress and identifying opportunities for the next quantum jumps needed in our knowledge and understanding.
In other words, though conversation is not sufficient by itself, good conservation does need the occasional good conversation.
This is why, in 1996, IUCN decided to expand the Members' Assembly that it holds every four years into the World Conservation Congress (WCC), to bring together the top conservationists from all regions and nations to discuss and share their work and findings. WCC 2008, held in Barcelona in October and attended by more than 7,000 participants, was the largest civil society conference ever held in the domain of environment. It represented a valuable opportunity for IUCN Members, Commissions and partners, individuals, NGOs, governments and businesses to debate the many issues that concern the conservation community today.
This book, Conservation for a New Era, presents a synthesis of those wide-ranging discussions. It examines the state of our natural resources today, the stage at which conservation stands, and the current trends in these. It underlines the clear consensus that emerged from the Congress, that IUCN's heartland of species, protected areas and ecosystems work will now increasingly be a critical element for any societal strategy that can lead to a sustainable future. And it describes how the conservation community is responding to this challenge – and opportunity.
The richness of this book's content and the accessibility of its language, structure and presentation should make it many things to many people: a source book for school students; a supplementary text for undergraduates; a resource compendium for practitioners and civil society organizations; and a reference volume for decision makers in government, business and the design professions. And maybe even bed-time reading for those who love nature. In short, a fine record of what was evidently a very vibrant conversation. Which is what conservation surely deserves.
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