At the World Conservation Congress, debates on ecology are mixed with business

From Marseille, France

To enter the World Conservation Congress which takes place in Marseille between September 2 and 11 and which organizes the World Conservation Union (IUCN) At the Chanot Exhibition Center, you have to go through two security and health checks. You can enter for free up to the more than 500 stands of governments, companies and NGOs. The objective of each stand is to “raise awareness”. In a corner of one of the nine pavilions, a Korean soprano emulates the song of the whales that appear on a screen behind her. In another corner, people rest on lounge chairs arranged in a circle around speakers that reproduce the sound of Amazon birds. To have access to the conferences – of which in total at the end of the congress more than 1,400 panelists will have participated – you have to pay an accreditation that costs 1,500 euros. Those who do it for the most part do not come here to learn how to recycle but to close deals and give debates around conservation.

The debates

The topics to be discussed are organized into seven categories: landscape, fresh water, law and governance, economic and financial systems, innovation, oceans and climate change. There are round tables, plenary sessions, debates, monologues, conferences and some summits: of the youth, of judges, of company bosses and of indigenous people.

In the “Summit of youth”, Brighton Kaoma, UN Sustainable Youth Director, spoke to “the old folks”: “We are tired of your words, all we need is for you to take action. If you can’t act, let the young people do it ”.

The “Summit of Heads of Companies” brings together industry leaders to “explore the steps they can take to accelerate the transformation towards a sustainable society.” There, a representative of the World Bank said why it seemed important to her: “more than half of the world’s GDP is generated by industries that depend largely or moderately on ecosystem services, such as pollination, water filtration. and raw materials ”. WWF took the opportunity to recall that “the real cost of producing plastic and supporting its pollution” is higher than the GDP of India.

At 9.25 am on Tuesday morning in France, at 4.25 am in Argentina, in a meeting entitled “Judges and the environment”, the judge of the Supreme Court of Argentina, Ricardo Lorenzetti, presented by video call. In front of peers from Mexico, Barbados, Costa Rica, Pakistan and the European Union, he was not at all conservative: “We must slowly change our conception of rights based purely on property and on the individual and open a different legal paradigm, an ecocentric approach. and systemic “.


A representative of COMIFAC (the Central African Forest Commission) approaches this chronicler to leave a brochure. It is promoting the Congo Basin booth which has a slogan: “An exceptional biodiversity capital”. It is precisely in this region that it is denounced that the conservation NGO WWF wants to expel the Baka indigenous people to create the Messok Dja national park. Paul Kanyinke Sena, a Cameroonian who heads the Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Africa and who articulates with the IUCN spoke with PageI12 in a press conference after the summit of indigenous peoples and challenged: “We are investigating these complaints but the human rights organizations that made them need problems, if there are no human rights violations they have no way to finance themselves.”

The Guatemalan indigenous leader Ramiro Batzin, from the SOTZ’IL Association, took the floor after Kanynke: “I know that the conservationists, as with this project of 30% of the land as a protected area by 2030, have good intentions, but they have good intentions. to respect the free and prior informed consent of the indigenous people ”. Conservationists defended themselves in the first person: “Our global goals of protecting the Earth and conserving biodiversity cannot be achieved without the leadership, support and collaboration of Indigenous Peoples,” said Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General.

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As reported in this newspaper on Saturday, the project “30 x30”, promoted by the UN and consists of having a third of the planet as a protected area within 10 years, is the axis of this congress and was the trigger for a against summit last week. For Lara Domínguez of the Minority Rights Group, it is a political but not scientific project: “there are no serious studies of economic and social impact and 300 million people could be displaced.”

The deals

Some large companies took advantage of this global meeting to recycle their speech about accusations that weigh on them. BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung have pledged “not to use deep-sea minerals or finance deep-sea mining until a new impact study is done.” The IUCN, for its part, has closed several deals in the that goes from its Congress. It made an agreement with the Chinese technology company Huawei to “improve digital connectivity in 300 protected areas”, an agreement with the World Labor Organization to promote the creation of “green jobs” and another with the German government, which will invest 17 million euros in promoting ecotourism in protected areas.

The antecedent

In January 1994 this same World Conservation Congress was held in Argentina. It was at the Sheraton in the Retiro neighborhood and it was inaugurated by Menem and the then Secretary of the Environment María Julia Alsogaray. This is how Raúl Montenegro, the Cordovan ecologist awarded the Right Livelihood Prize (known as the Alternative Nobel Prize), recalls: “Among those who were mentioned for their economic or similar contribution to that Congress were Cemento Avellaneda, Loma Negra and Celulosa Argentina, not exactly champions of environmental conservation ”.

For Montenegro, who directs the Foundation for the Defense of the Environment (Funam) in the province of Córdoba, the IUCN “does not question lifestyles or the worst sources of environmental and social disturbance” (such as inequality or wars) and ” it offers a biased and ineffective model where conservation that excludes people and very serious records of the increasing deterioration of classified biodiversity coexist ”.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the IUCN reported that “it has studied 138,374 species, of which 38,543 are classified under threat.” For example: 37% of the world’s shark and ray species are endangered.

For Raúl Montenegro “the concept of native biodiversity managed by IUCN and most governments is fragmentary and inexplicably incomplete. In Argentina, for example, we do not have biodiversity maps. Only maps of some dominant and visible groups of biodiversity, for example trees and vertebrates ”. He also recalls that there is an “unclassified” biodiversity: “there are between 10 and 100 million species, just at the virus level, slightly more than 6,000 species have been classified and it is estimated that there are some 900,000 to 1,000,000 species of viruses without sort out”.

For the director of FUNAM, this is not a summit by nature, but a meeting of governmental and non-governmental members. From the time this Congress was held in Argentina, Montenegro insisted on something that has not yet been done: “the need for a United Nations Convention on lifestyles and human behavior.”


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