Closing Address to the World Parks Congress, 17 September 2003

His Majesty King Zwelithini, Hlanga lomhlabathi, Bayede!
His Majesty King Amoatia Ofori Panin, from Ghana,
Honourable Ministers and MECs,
Director-General of the World Conservation Union, the IUCN,
Distinguished delegates and guests,
Members of the media,

For the last 10 days, the world's leading conservation practitioners, administrators and stakeholders have gathered here at the World Parks Congress in Durban, to review the global status of protected areas and develop a new conservation agenda.

You have been meeting in the right province, in KwaZulu-Natal, which has a history of nature conservation dating back to the days of the founder of the Zulu nation, King Shaka. This key military and political strategist regulated hunting periods, allowing hunting only in winter, so as not to affect the breeding process in summer, to ensure the survival of the species.

This conference has indicated that indeed, there is cause to celebrate.

Protected area coverage has tripled over the past 20 years and has provided society with immeasurable benefits, such as clean water, fish stocks, flood protection and reduction of poverty through supporting sustainable livelihoods.

Increasingly, protected areas are providing impetus for sustaining international friendship, peace and security through burgeoning trans-frontier conservation area initiatives across the world.

Delegates to this congress have been central to these achievements. In your midst, there are representatives of the new generation of leaders that are taking conservation and protected areas into the 21st century.

Your collective task at this Congress has been to assess the challenges, define the priorities and map out actions that will guide global efforts on protected area management in the next decade.

Ten days ago, when President Mbeki opened this Congress, we were reminded that our natural resources and biodiversity are not only a priceless heritage, but also fundamental to our very existence.

We were reminded that poverty, displacement, hunger, land degradation and climate change are threats to this heritage.

We were reminded that we are living in a period in which poverty and the ever-increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds poses a major threat to both global prosperity and environmental integrity.

And we were reminded of our shared future, our responsibilities to one another, to the greater community of life, and to our children.

Against this background this Congress has presented an opportunity for important discussion by the representatives from all over the world.

Serious concerns have been raised. Many areas of rich cultural and biological diversity, which are under immediate threat, have still not been protected.

Marine and freshwater systems remain under represented and highly vulnerable to overexploitation and degradation.

Extensive natural and wild areas previously protected under indigenous traditional forms of conservation have been lost and many so called "paper parks" exist across the globe.

A central theme has been the recognition that protected areas cannot be islands of conservation, divorced from the social and economic context within which they are located.

They generate significant economic, environmental and social benefits.

This makes them powerful contributors to poverty reduction and to the development targets set in the Millennium Declaration and at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

We are heralding a new era in which we seek synergies between conservation and development agendas. It is an era in which protected areas play a vital role in achieving this synergy and integration, and provide benefits beyond boundaries - beyond their immediate boundaries, boundaries of nation states, and across societies, cultures and generations.

The Congress has laid the foundation for this new paradigm. It has reviewed and reinforced the role of protected areas in conserving diversity of plant and animal species; in maintaining ecosystems; preserving historic and cultural resources; securing the beauty of landscapes that enrich human experience; and in protecting places of spiritual value.

However, this congress has clearly outlined a new and complementary role that protected areas play in reducing pervasive poverty and catalyzing local and national social and economic development. We are encouraged by this in this country in particular as we continuously seek to address the question of poverty in communities adjoining protected areas.

Looking ahead, the Congress has defined the priorities and set out actions for the next decade.

As a vital contribution to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the sustainable development targets set in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, an expanded and comprehensive worldwide system of protected areas must be mainstreamed, within the framework of a pro-people and pro-development agenda aimed at socio-economic development and poverty reduction.

It must have the full support and participation of local communities, indigenous peoples, the youth and women - in decision-making processes that take account of their rights, aspirations, cultures and interests. It must recognise, support and strengthen community conservation areas, which have over the ages been conserved within the traditional cultures of our people.

In order to achieve the multiple goals of biodiversity conservation, socio-economic development and poverty reduction, the approach to management of protected areas needs to be innovative and adaptive, learning from both our rich indigenous knowledge systems as wells from as new scientific understanding and technological developments.

Conservation and good governance are integrally linked. There must be commitment to strong and diverse institutional forms that facilitate partnerships with the private sector, non-government organization, local communities, indigenous people and other actors.

This Congress has highlighted that resources available in most countries are inadequate for effective conservation, and that protected areas require substantial additional resources to effectively operate and develop.

Only the full evaluation of the contribution of all the environmental, tourism and other services provided by protected areas to the economy will be able to prove the need for these additional allocations of resources.

The new protected area paradigm will crucially enable the further development of new alternative financing and income generation strategies.

Chairperson, one-third of the earth's biodiversity is located in Africa. As Africans, we recognize and embrace our global custodianship role of this biodiversity. The protection of the African environment is one of the priorities in the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD.

The NEPAD African Protected Areas Initiative, and the WPC 10-point Agenda for Action on African Protected Areas, developed by this congress, sets a clear agenda for strengthening the work within the continent on protected areas.

It ensures that they are central to poverty reduction and development strategies.

Chairperson, finally I would like to congratulate the IUCN. The Congress has achieved its objectives and delivered 4 major outputs that will influence the resolution and programmes of others:

Firstly, the Durban Accord is aimed at influencing all governments, stakeholders and society at large. It is a visionary statement that captures the key elements and outcomes that have emerged from this 5th World Parks Congress.
Secondly, the Message to the Convention on Biodiversity, aimed at influencing the intergovernmental negotiations at the 7th Conference of Parties of this convention.
Thirdly, the Durban Action Plan aimed at informing practical action required at international, national and conservation authority level, in particular focused on constructing a 10-year programme of work for the IUCN itself.
And finally, recommendations, which advocate specific action on a few key priority issues to be taken by governments, inter-governmental, NGO and civil society structures.
Gathered here at this Congress are the people who can make these outputs a reality. I would like to thank Their Majesties, Heads of State, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Dignitaries for setting aside time to be here.

Thank you to the distinguished delegates for engaging so vigorously in the debate. To His Worship, the Mayor of Durban, Councillor Obed Mlaba and his City Council, a particular word of thanks for your proactive role in making this Congress a success.

And finally, as you depart from this Congress to your homes and offices, carry forth the message of the Congress. Bring hope to the peoples of the world that protected areas are a central part of our future, and that we will indeed halt and reverse the rate of biodiversity loss on our planet by 2010.

I wish you well. Thank you for joining us and being part of the Fifth IUCN World Parks Congress.

I thank you.

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