Something big is about to happen on a tiny speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
This year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will hold its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. IUCN is the world’s oldest – and largest – environmental organization. It has been working for nearly 70 years to protect our environment and the many species in it. It might seem like just another environmental group, but it’s not – it’s THE environmental group. To put it in perspective, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is just one of more than 1,200 member organizations.
So, when IUCN decided to hold its World Conservation Congress – which takes place once every four years – in Hawaii, it was a big deal for those of us marooned in this beautiful paradise. After all, this event is dubbed as the ‘Olympics of Conservation.’ In fact, it is expected to be bigger than our last huge event – Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). With more than 8,000 delegates coming from nearly every country around the world, make no mistake, this is a big deal.
But why Hawaii? Is it the beautiful beaches or the amenities of Waikiki? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Hawaii is often considered a microcosm of the issues of the world – especially those related to Sustainable Development. We might be merely a string of small islands, but we have it all. We have amazing beauty, a diverse population, and a wealth of natural resources. But just like everywhere else, we have our troubles. Our beauty is slowly being encased in concrete, our population is growing and prices are rising (along with tempers), and our natural resources are quickly being depleted. It’s hard to admit, but paradise is in trouble.
Hawaii has issues just like everywhere else, it’s true. The difference between Hawaii and the rest of the world is that we can’t hide from it. When you live on an island where you can drive across in less than an hour, you can see the damage that you have done and the issues that you have. On a continent like the mainland US or Europe, you can’t see the effect of people so easily.
I can’t be certain if that is why IUCN chose Hawaii, but I’m glad that they did. We in Hawaii know that we have problems to deal with, and despite everything, we are working through them. We have some of the most innovative natural resource management programs in the US, such as our community-based fisheries programs, and a rich indigenous culture to help inspire us. We are also one of the few US states actively working on creating a smart grid to store solar and wind energy and to lessen our need for fossil fuels – which is currently all shipped in from elsewhere. We are making great progress!
Of course, with all of the issues we face, this progress could be moving a little bit quicker. That’s why I am happy about IUCN coming to Hawaii. With the 8,000 IUCN delegates (and more) planning to land on our shores to discuss many of the world’s biggest issues, all eyes will be on Hawaii. The lessons that we have learned and the problems that we face will be on full display for the world. We have a lot to offer, and much to gain.
Come September, the world will be watching. It’s time for us to show them what we’ve got!
Want to learn more about Sustainable Development and how Hawaii fits in to it? Check out a recent interview of yours truly on ThinkTech Hawaii.