IUCN World Conservation Congress

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From 1-10 September 2016, the eyes of the world, from environmental campaigners to the media, turned towards Honolulu as Hawai’i played host to the IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC).

As the world’s wildlife faces unprecedented threats to its survival, from illegal wildlife trade to habitat loss, this global gathering united conservationists from the world over to formulate lasting solutions to this growing ecological crisis.

Held once every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brought together more than 10,000 leaders, decision-makers and practitioners ranging from government, NGOs, indigenous peoples, business and academia, from 192 countries, with the goal of conserving the environment and harnessing the solutions nature offers to global challenges.

The congress started with around 1,500 events showcasing conservation and innovation, before IUCN’s over 1,300 Member organisations exercised their rights to help define and vote on IUCN strategy, resolutions and membership, influence the global conservation agenda and guide IUCN’s work plan for the four years to follow.  

This year’s theme was ‘Planet at a Crossroads’, centred around the delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development / Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It reflects two competing narratives for conservation as we experience ever greater pressures on the planet – one of survival and despair, or an opportunity to make political, economic, cultural and technological choices that support and enhance the planet’s health. 

The culmination of the Congress was the adoption by IUCN Members of the Hawai‘i Commitments, an innovative document that sets out the opportunities to meet key conservation challenges identified at the Congress.



As an international conservation charity, ZSL sent its experts along to the world’s most prestigious conservation summit to lead and take part in workshops to share experiences, inspire new audiences and agree on key directions at site and policy level to conserve wildlife across the globe. 

Read our IUCN WCC blog to find out more.


WCC 2016 - Outcomes:

  • Illegal wildlife trade

Following intense deliberations, IUCN Members have urged all governments to close domestic markets of elephant ivory, seen as creating opportunities for laundering illegal ivory. Elephants are killed for their tusks across Africa, threatening both the survival of savannah and forest elephants and park rangers.

Combatting illegal wildlife trade was also at the heart of an IUCN decision on the alarming increase in the poaching of vicuña for its fibre. IUCN Members have called for measures to be put in place to promote the sustainable use of the species, and eliminate the illegal trade, including greater traceability of vicuña fibre and cross-border collaboration.

  • The high seas

Members have also identified the need for internationally binding legislation to preserve the high seas, and have set an ambitious target of 30% of marine areas to be protected by 2030. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies beyond the jurisdiction of countries.

  • Indigenous peoples

IUCN Members have also agreed to create a new category of IUCN membership for Indigenous peoples’ organisations, boosting support for Indigenous peoples’ rights on the international scene. A large number of resolutions adopted by IUCN Members have also contributed to strengthening Indigenous peoples’ rights.

  • Protection of primary forests

IUCN Members have expressed support for the conservation of primary forests, including intact forest landscapes. These are seen to play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, and are vital for the protection of indigenous cultures, and livelihoods of poor, marginalised communities.

  • No-go areas

Another decision by IUCN Members has put all land and seascapes classified under any of IUCN’s categories of protected areas off limits for damaging industrial activities – such as mining, oil and gas, agriculture – and infrastructure developments – such as dams, roads and pipelines. To date, only World Heritage sites have been formally recognised as no-go areas.

  • Oil palm industry

In another decision, IUCN Members stressed the crucial need to identify intact forests and critical ecosystems to be avoided by the fast-growing oil palm industry. The rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities should be respected and taken into consideration, according to the decision. Activities of the oil palm industry can have negative impacts on the environment, such as the loss of habitat for great apes and other primates, as well as on community livelihoods.

  • Biodiversity offsets

IUCN Members have also agreed on a policy on biodiversity offsets, emphasising that priority must be given to avoid biodiversity loss. Offsets must be a measure of last resort, and in certain cases, they are not appropriate – according to the Members. 

  • Natural capital

IUCN Members also agreed to develop a policy defining natural capital, taking into account ecological, ethical and social justice issues. Members have noted emerging standards which aim to integrate the value of nature in the decision-making of business and financial institutions, and the need for an improved understanding of natural capital.

  • Scientific announcements

Major scientific announcements were released at the Congress, including the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ which declared the eastern gorilla – the largest living primate –as Critically Endangered due to illegal hunting, while announcing the improvement in status of the giant panda. IUCN also launched the most comprehensive review of the scale and impact of ocean warming on nature and people available to date.

ZSL and the WCC

ZSL is a long-standing member of IUCN, and is well engaged with the union as a whole and particularly with the Species Survival Commission (SSC) and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

We have steered and supported a number of key Resolutions at previous Congresses and were involved in even more for this Congress.  

ZSL coordinated events and presented on a variety of topics at WCC, highlighting our leading role in conservation policy, planning, management, monitoring and public engagement.  


Key focal areas for ZSL at the WCC focused on strategy and action linked to three themes of ‘spaces’, ‘species’ and ‘people’. 




  • Connecting people to nature and citizen science: demos on Instant Wild, events featuring ‘We are the rangers’ Minecraft gaming, United for Wildlife's free online conservation course and the art of conservation.


ZSL motions at the WCC

The passing of ‘Motions’ (which then become formal IUCN Resolutions) is a key component of the Congress Members’ Assembly and helps to define IUCN’s strategy and position on key areas.  

ZSL co-sponsored 15 Motions at this WCC (out of a total of 99), and was highly active in the online consultation of motions in the run up to the Congress.

Key motions supported by ZSL which were passed by IUCN Members at the Congress included those calling for:


ZSL events at the WCC

ZSL led, presented in or partnered on around 40 events at the Congress, ranging from technology demonstrations of our Instant Wild citizen science monitoring app, to discussing a new action plan to save Congo’s elusive okapi, to launching our major new landscape conservation project in South Sumatra, Kelola Sendang.

These events took a variety of formats, including workshops, small-group ‘knowledge cafés’ and drop-in pavilion events.

Download a list of all our events below or find out more on the IUCN website.

PDF icon ZSL events at IUCN WCC 2016 (251.13 KB)


ZSL staff attending

Craig Bruce, Head of Asia Programmes
Dr Sarah Thomas, Head of Discovery and Learning
Dr Noëlle Kümpel, Conservation Policy Programme Manager
Elizabeth Clarke, Business and Biodiversity Programme Manager
Angela Yang, East and South-east Asia Programme Manager
Sophie Adwick, Asia Assistant Programme Manager
Hem Baral, Nepal Country Manager
Damayanti Buchori, Kelola Sendang Project Director
Yessi Dewi Agustina, Kelola Sendang Communications Officer
Louise Hartley, Project Manager, Conservation Technology Unit
Dr John Ewen, Research Fellow, ZSL Institute of Zoology 
Jonas Kambale Nyumu, USFWS MENTOR-PoP Fellow, Cameroon (ZSL-affiliate)
Linh Bao, USFWS MENTOR-PoP Fellow, Vietnam (ZSL-affiliate)

The ZSL Team at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016

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The beautiful Napali coast of the island of Kaua‘I in the Hawaiian archipelago © Noelle Kumpel
The beautiful Napali coast of the island of Kaua‘I in the Hawaiian archipelago

As delegates from around the world gathered in Hawai‘i for the world’s largest meeting on nature conservation, a fresh set of alarming statistics were released. The loss of 27% of African elephants in the past 7 years, the loss of 9.6% of wilderness (29.6% in the Amazon region) in the past two decades, and the increasing human footprint causing pressure on 75% of the world’s land surface - all emphasise the scale of the challenge we face. 

But as the dust settles on the recent IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress, held 1-10 September in Hawai‘i, we have reason for hope on a number of fronts. A record-breaking 10,000 delegates from 192 countries took the long journey to this inspiring island chain in the middle of the Pacific, which itself epitomises many of the challenges and solutions raised at the Congress. We shared experiences, results, tools and lessons, agreed on priorities and defined a vision and workplan for global conservation for the next four years and beyond.

The ZSL Team at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016
Some of the ZSL team at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i

With a theme of ‘Planet at a crossroads’, the meeting considered the central role of a healthy, intact natural environment in conserving biodiversity and delivering the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement on climate change, both agreed by governments last year. While some parts of the meeting were more contentious than others, demonstrating the passion for and relevance of discussions on topics such as ivory markets, we collectively coalesced around some key themes and nature-based solutions as set out in the Hawai‘i Commitments.

In a world becoming ever more crowded by a growing and increasingly all-consuming human population, we discussed the challenges of sustainable development. A particular focus was where and how to expand agricultural production in order to feed what will be over 9 billion people by 2050. Sessions also addressed the issue of extractives and infrastructure expansion into critical areas for biodiversity and indigenous peoples and local communities.

In response, IUCN members voted overwhelmingly to support major resolutions calling for all categories of IUCN protected areas to be ‘no-go’ to environmentally-damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development, to conserve primary forests, including intact forest landscapes, to mitigate the impacts of oil palm expansion and to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030 (tripling the current target of 10% by 2020). The latter had particularly strong political and public support, with the Congress opening with Obama declaring the world’s largest marine protected area (a record previously held by the UK) and 1 million people around the world signing a petition in support of the motion.

Plastic bottle in the ocean, Chagos
The #OneLess campaign aims to reduce the number of single-use plastic bottles thrown away each year, many of which make their way to the sea and end up as marine litter ingested by wildlife

Addressing the issue of making such calls work on the ground, we voted to provide guidance on connecting conservation areas, and case studies of successful landscape-scale projects were given. One example was the new Kelola Sendang project in South Sumatra, an innovative, public-private-people partnership developed to provide conservation, climate and livelihood benefits by reducing deforestation, wildfires and loss of peatland across a mosaic of agricultural land, forest concessions and protected areas.

Reflecting the sense of urgency, ambition and clarity that is needed, the Congress Forum opened with the renowned ecologist E.O. Wilson calling for ‘half earth’ – protecting at least 50% of the land and seas. This echoed the results of our previous global opinion survey on space for nature, which found that people around the world felt that 50% of the planet should be protected. Another key Congress resolution aims to address this with the development of a more ambitious strategy to safeguard space for nature post-2020, the date set for reaching the current Aichi targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Space for Nature infographic
Results of ZSL’s global opinion survey asking how much of the land and sea people wanted to see protected. Respondents from seven countries in six continents (Australia, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, UK, USA) said on average 50% for land and sea

Feedback from two Congress events convened on the topic suggests this is not just about targets for coverage of protected areas (which are currently 17% of the land and 10% of the sea by 2020), but defining what sort of activities can happen where, and making sure everything we do, everywhere, is as responsible and sustainable as possible and integrated into the wider strategy. This means not only better protecting flagship and intact areas, but also ensuring best practice elsewhere - in private concessions, community lands, even urban gardens. Tools like SPOTT (Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit) can help to demonstrate this. All this needs political leadership, public pressure, incentives and ultimately regulation, with the active involvement of all sectors of society – governments, the private sector, local communities and youth. 

In addition, we still need to radically change our patterns of consumption and unsustainable behaviour. The #OneLess campaign against single use plastic bottles is a great example, embodied by the paperless, plastic bottle-free ethos of the Congress. Engaging youth is also critical – as seen by the launch of the #NatureForAll campaign and the visible and vocal presence of young people at the Congress. This included a students' day welcoming 900 Hawaiian students to learn about conservation first-hand, featuring Instant Wild and United for Wildlife’s hugely popular ‘We Are The Rangers’ Minecraft game and free online conservation course. Such change starts with every one of us – we need to take collective and individual responsibility for our children’s future.

ZSL’s Louise Hartley presenting Instant Wild to some of the 900 local Hawaiian students visiting the IUCN World Conservation Congress on Students Day
ZSL’s Louise Hartley presenting Instant Wild to some of the 900 local Hawaiian students visiting the IUCN World Conservation Congress on Students Day

Key is connecting this all to ensure that we actually reduce the alarming rate of loss of biodiversity, such as the staggering 52% global decline in vertebrate populations since 1970. There was obviously much focus on species as well as space at the Congress, including calls for measures to address declines in eels and giraffids, increased protections for pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade and the closure of domestic ivory markets. Which brings me back to that mention of elephants at the start of this piece… While elephants are indisputably important for their own sake, and for our global and range states’ heritage, we mustn’t forget the critical role of such species in their ecosystems, and in securing the ecosystem services upon which we all depend. More ambitious targets for space for nature therefore need a focus on both quantity (area-based targets) and quality (maintaining wildlife populations by better managing and protecting these areas). That’s a tall order – but one that underpins our very survival. 

Elephants in Tsavo. The closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory was among the things called for at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016
Elephants are being pushed to the brink of extinction by poaching for the illegal ivory trade

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