Hawaii’s selection as the host for the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress — the world’s largest conservation event — marks a beginning, an end and a continuum.
The unanimous decision by the IUCN marks the end of seven years of planning and preparations by a grassroots committee comprised of conference planners, hospitality and tourism representatives, non-government organizations, local and national nonprofits and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, representing the state of Hawaii. All these efforts came to a successful conclusion after the IUCN received a letter of support to secure Hawaii’s bid from President Barack Obama at the request of Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Holding the World Conservation Congress in the United States, for the first time in the IUCN’s 60-plus year history, marks the beginning of two years of intense preparations. As Hawaii prepares to host this event, the state will continue to coordinate locally and nationally with businesses, government entities, and non-governmental organizations to ensure a successful Congress in 2016. About 8,000 delegates from 160 IUCN-member nations will head to our shores for 10 days of discussion and decision-making about the most pressing conservation and environmental issues facing our planet.
Most important is the continuum the IUCN decision represents. Here in Hawaii, we know how vital it is to sustainably manage our intrinsically linked cultural and natural resources. Hawaii is a recognized leader in natural resource management in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world. Notable initiatives include Hawaii’s statewide Rain Follows the Forest program, a public-private partnership that protects our life-giving watersheds, while protecting native species and ensuring a source of water for future generations. Energy efficiency projects for our airports, public buildings, and the University of Hawaii, contribute to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. The state continues to prepare for the impacts of climate change by increasing our resiliency to more destructive storm events, prolonged drought and sea-level rise. President Obama recognized this work when he appointed Abercrombie to the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, a national initiative where Hawaii has made significant contributions.
The Congress meets in a different country every four years, and is considered the “United Nations” of conservation. Hosting this significant event is a ringing endorsement of the work that led us to this point. The staging of this prestigious conference allows Hawaii to further share its expertise in the area of conservation, while expanding our knowledge and networks through interactions with the world’s thought leaders. Decisions made at previous congresses have guided national and international decision-making around the world. This is an opportunity for Hawaii to leave an indelible mark on how the world addresses conservation challenges.
In addition to the potential for Hawaii to become world leaders in the area of sustainable resource management and conservation, hosting the Congress will have direct economic benefits for Hawaii. Current estimates put the Congress’ contribution to Hawaii’s economy at more than $40 million in delegate spending and tax revenues. As Hawaii continues to attract large, international conferences, like the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, Hawaii continues to show that it can efficiently execute a global conference of political and business leaders. In the long run, Hawaii has the potential to attract conference business and repeat visits by conference attendees by spreading goodwill and aloha across the globe.
Beyond dollars, the IUCN World Conservation Congress makes tremendous sense for Hawaii — a place where people love and respect the relationship to land and sea. We are ready to welcome the world to our shores in September 2016.
• William J. Aila Jr. is DLNR chairman