Perspective from the WCPA Chair and Deputy Chair on the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014

One month ago, many of us were busily deliberating, sharing, negotiating, learning, presenting and, among many other things, catching-up with old friends and reconnecting with our networks. We were for a few days very cognizant of the conservation challenges we face but also much in a way living surrounded by our world, our comfort zone. The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 was in full steam, preparing for the closing ceremony and inaugurating the intersessional period to the next congress which will be guided by the Promise of Sydney. Sydney was just the beginning. Delivering on the Promise is the name of the game now!

The congress was a resounding success as much as such an event can be called so. Congresses are never perfect. Yet this one achieved and even surpassed many expectations, appealing to a wide range of participants. After so much hard work and preparation, much of it done on a voluntary basis by dedicated stream leaders, it has been encouraging to receive such positive feedback from heads of park agencies, IUCN councillors, field rangers, park staff and community and indigenous participants. We must feel proud and with a lot of gratitude to all those who made that possible, within and outside of WCPA and IUCN, including our colleagues from other Commissions. Particularly, one of the game changers was that we risked inviting partner organizations to join us. It has paid off very handsomely and will do so even much more in the years to come as we work to strengthen and build on those partnerships.

We defined our congress very early on not as an end but as a means - the launching pad to area-based conservation in the Anthropocene. Not too far away by Australian standards, another important meeting was taking place in Brisbane, also talking about the future of the planet but from the standpoint of the geopolitical superpowers: the G-20. A New York Times columnist, a few days later, said that he chose to attend the World Parks Congress as it was more important for the future of the planet. Yet, we must recognize that protected and conserved areas as vital as they are, as wise an investment, are still marginalized from being a priority in the global and national political agendas. When protected areas stand in the way between any notion of progress and economic development, it is generally protected areas that lose out. Our greatest challenge is to continue to demonstrate that some areas must be No-Go and that area-based conservation is the minimal and basic requirement for sustainability, a cost-effective insurance policy, and that it is the only way forward for humanity.

As we are still breathing and thinking on "inspiring solutions", we must already be preparing for each of our own contributions to the Promise of Sydney. This goes for all the conservation community and in particular for the WCPA. Regardless of whether we were in Sydney or not, the spirit must permeate the whole community and spur us on to greater efforts. There will be new opportunities to renew commitments and enthusiasm including a series of meetings for the Promise of Sydney to define regional responses and follow-up starting with a European meeting in Austria in May 2015. Other regions are planning similar events.

We will remember 2014 as a busy but fruitful year. It is with gratitude, confidence and hope that we wish you all the best for the year-end. WCPA members, and our many friends and partners, can be proud of their contributions to the IUCN World Parks Congress but of course we are asking for even greater efforts in the coming years to turn conservation commitments into reality. As the Pacific vakas reminded us, as they sailed into Sydney harbour, hope is not something you say but something you commit to, making it come true.

We hope 2015 will be a great year for you and for our protected areas.
All the best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year for you and your families.

Ernesto Enkerlin Hoeflich, Chair
Kathy MacKinnon, Deputy Chair
IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas