We are at a turning point in the history of the global environmental movement. As IUCN celebrates its 60th anniversary, and marks six decades of global conservation achievement, it is also taking stock of the urgent challenges facing life on earth and reviewing its strategies.
The new millennium started with a profound wake-up call. Over the past eight years scientists worldwide have provided policy makers with some daunting facts, which taken together present an alarming picture of the future.
In 2005 we learned that nearly two-thirds of the world's ecosystems – our life support systems – are degraded and being used unsustainably, leading to irreversible damage in some cases. In 2007 we learned that the evidence for climate change, resulting from carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, is now unequivocal, with potentially catastrophic results. We are also nearing a period of peak oil, the point at which the maximum rate of global petroleum production is reached, after which supplies decline and prices rise, with profound implications for the global economy.
All these issues are interdependent and threaten the world and human wellbeing through their cascading effects on food, water, energy and resource security. They are also all coming to a head together, and at a faster pace than most policy makers could have predicted. No one is immune from their influences, although they hit the poorest and most vulnerable groups the hardest. It is clear that we are facing profound changes to life as we know it. The ‘future isn't what it used to be’, as the saying goes, and there are no maps for the path ahead.
IUCN has always stood up for the protection of life and defended the diversity and beauty of the natural world. The imperative of caring for the earth and people has never been greater, and yet the challenges ahead are bigger than anything we have ever faced before, and business as usual is no longer an option. There are no simple solutions. The challenges are too big for one sector, one country, and one strategy to address alone. We need to face the changes ahead with vision, with courage, with compassion for all life on earth – and in collaboration with others.
How do we do this? This paper calls for a transition to sustainability, but more than that, it calls for the environmental movement to make a step-change in helping society live lightly and equitably on the earth.
We must demonstrate the relevance of our knowledge to all sectors of society because we all depend on biodiversity, and in a language that people can understand. We need to play a role in rethinking real wealth and in reinventing economic systems that are fit for a single planet. We need to rejuvenate the environmental movement and develop institutions that are responsive, dynamic, equitable and resilient. We need to develop practical tools and coherent political strategies to help us make the transition. Above all we must go beyond counting the problems and ‘doom and gloom’ messages to fostering the vision that gives us hope and that inspires us to change.
Times like these require an evolutionary leap in consciousness. Science provides us with the knowledge we need. Now we need the wisdom to direct our collective action. We are grateful to IUCN's Council for catalysing this review of conservation and sustainable development and for helping to set the direction of the evolution of our field. We thank them and all our partners who are joining us in this urgent collective endeavour. We hope that this paper will stimulate debate and help mark a watershed in thinking.
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