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Nations at the World Parks Congress pledged new protections for marine areas, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Nations at the World Parks Congress pledged new protections for marine areas, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

GreenMPs/Flickr

World Parks Congress ends with pledges for expanded protected areas

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) concluded its once-a-decade World Parks Congress today in Sydney, Australia, trumpeting a list of more than 70 conservation commitments announced by countries around the world. "There has been a willingness to move beyond words to action," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre during the closing ceremony.

Among the pledges:  

  • Bangladesh promised to create the country’s first marine protected area.

  • Gabon announced it would create new marine protected areas covering 23% of its territorial waters.

  • Madagascar announced plans to triple its marine protected areas.

  • Panama pledged to restore 1 million hectares of degraded lands within protected areas.      

  • The Elion Foundation and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification announced forming a public-private partnership that will plant 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road as part of efforts to reduce land degradation.

The commitments were seen as a step toward achieving new conservation goals set out by the congress in a document dubbed The Promise of Sydney, which calls for protecting at least 17% of the world's land and 10% of its oceans by 2020.

"It is clear that a large community of people understand the role of nature as a support system for our well-being," Marton-Lefèvre told ScienceInsider. She added that many more recommendations came out of sessions focusing on topics such as protected area selection, management, financing, and evaluation. IUCN also announced the creation of a Green List of Protected Areas to recognize best practice examples of protected area management. 

The 8-day congress attracted 6000 participants from more than 170 countries. "We didn’t quite expect so many; Sydney is not next door to every country in the world," Marton-Lefèvre said.

On the downside, "I would have loved to have hundreds of business leaders among us; we did have some," Marton-Lefèvre said. She also acknowledged that one major challenge facing protected areas—climate change—is beyond the purview of IUCN. "Quite a lot was said about climate change; it was in the room with us all the time," she said. "But it wasn't a climate conference."