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The 70th Anniversary of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

October 5, 2018       Official Residence of the French Ambassador to Fiji, Suva.

The Ambassador of France to Fiji, Your Excellency Sujiro Seam;

Your Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps;

The Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Ms. Inger Andersen;

The Regional Director of the IUCN, Oceania Regional Office, Mr. Mason Smith; 

Distinguished Guests;

Friends of IUCN; and

Members of the Media.

Bonsoir, ni sa bula vinaka, and a very pleasant evening to you all. 

I am deeply honoured to be invited to deliver the keynote address at this momentous juncture of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. I wish to acknowledge Your Excellency the Ambassador of France to Fiji for sharing and hosting this celebration with the management and staff of the IUCN Regional Office. 

This year, the world’s first environmental union celebrates an accumulative 70 years of service since it was formed in Fontainebleau, France, on 5th October 1948, while its Regional Office established itself in the Pacific almost 11 years ago. From its inception in Fontainebleau, and with the full support of the United Nations, IUCN has developed an influential niche in the area of conservation, internationally and in the region, and is well regarded within Government circles as a source of confidential advice on areas of environmental management, biodiversity conservation and policy advice. This is a testament to the professionalism of IUCN personnel, past and present, and the leadership team from 2007 until today.

Over the years, IUCN has amassed numerous achievements, strengthening its commitment at the international as well as the regional level in the areas of protection of threatened animal and plant species, World Heritage conservation, the management of protected areas, and sustainable development, among others.  Since year 2000, IUCN has continued to innovate with a focus on nature-based solutions, expanding the role of indigenous peoples in conservation, and launching new initiatives such as Save our Species and the Bonn Challenge.  The joint effort between IUCN, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, almost three decades ago, had resulted in the release of the World Conservation Strategy that helped define the term “sustainable development”. Ensuing from this determined effort and the call from IUCN members in 1988, resulted in numerous countries producing their national conservation strategies. 

IUCN’s work has also played a pivotal role in the establishment and sound management of marine protected areas in countries in the Oceania region based on globally defined standards. It has contributed immensely to the development of international conservation laws that led to the creation of the landmark World Heritage Convention, CITES or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna And Flora and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.  Notably, a number of countries in the Oceania region are members of CITES.  The region is also the proud custodian of a number of Heritage and Ramsar sites of significant global and traditional value. And under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, IUCN has become the most comprehensive authority worldwide on the status of biological plants and animal species. 

Closer to home, IUCN has expanded its reach and influence beyond Fiji with the expansion of the Oceania Regional Office from one to three in Suva, manned by over 30 Fiji-based staff and project personnel in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga. 

Ladies and gentlemen, IUCN’s membership across the region, which consists of state and non-state entities, includes nine State members including Australia and New Zealand, 14 Government Agencies, 28 Non-Government Organisations, and one indigenous people’s organisation.  This unique amalgam of entities places IUCN in a strengthened position of convener of ideas and in shaping the direction of conservation and sustainable development in the region. The Fiji Government was admitted as a State member of IUCN on 1st May 2009.

Fiji’s relationship with IUCN began soon after Fiji gained its independence from Great Britain in 1970. Even prior to the official establishment of the IUCN office in Fiji in 2008, the Fijian Government engaged IUCN in the 1990s to prepare a National Environment Strategy for Fiji, culminating in the production of the first Fiji State of the Environment Report and National Environment Strategy. 

IUCN has worked with Island governments and civil society organisations in the fields of leadership and green growth, mangrove management, renewable energy, marine spatial planning and management, protected areas management, species conservation and biosecurity. IUCN has also acted as the backstop for a myriad of policy issues relating to the environment, and more recently in the fields of climate change especially those that pertain to the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

I am informed that the next World Conservation Congress will be hosted by the Government of France in Marseille in June 2020, and I look forward to IUCN’s leadership in Oceania as the region shapes the direction of conservation and sustainable development in the lead up to the review of the Aichi Targets in 2020 and SDGs in 2030. 

The region faces a number of existential threats not only to our survival, but also to biodiversity and the very ecosystems upon which most of our livelihoods depend. At the recent meeting of Pacific leaders in Nauru, leaders reiterated that climate change is the single, greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of Pacific people. I encourage IUCN and other conservation organisations to work closely with the Fijian Presidency of the 23rd Conference of the Parties to ensure that our Pacific peoples can face up to the threat posed by climate change and introduce innovative solutions to mitigate and help our people adapt to the reality of climate change. 

As a Pacific people, the Pacific Ocean unites as a region. But our ocean is under threat. Marine debris, and increasingly plastic pollutants, are now becoming a very big threat to our source of livelihood.  I believe that the IUCN, through its union of more than 1,300 members, its six world commissions with more than 13,000 scientist-members, and with the global distribution of its Secretariat staff in over 50 countries, is ideally placed to assist the Pacific region in dealing with issues that affect our ocean and terrestrial environment.

I also believe that the IUCN is doing exactly what Fiji wants to do in terms of keeping our oceans clean and sustainable not only for our current generation, but importantly for our future generations. Fiji has played a lead role in co-chairing the inaugural United Nations Oceans Conference. It is playing a lead role in pushing the climate change agenda in our capacity as the President of COP23, and it will continue to call on world leaders to take more responsibility with global warming and the consequential impact of climate change.    

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to IUCN’s continued technical assistance in assessing the state of our natural resources and providing our people with sound expertise and policy advice on conservation issues.  To commemorate IUCN’s 70th anniversary, I am pleased that the Regional Office is calling upon young photographers across the nation to submit their visual perspective on biodiversity and conservation. Not only is photography a valuable tool for awareness, it also gives the younger generation a sense of ownership and extension of the environment around them. I encourage every 13 to 19 years old to participate in this photographic campaign. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all the best and a pleasant evening as we commemorate IUCN’s 70 years of conservation work.  

Merci beaucoup, vinaka vakalevu, thank you and may the Almighty God continue to bless you and our beloved nation, Fiji.