Good Vibes from Brasilia

27 July 2010 | Article

Day two of the Committee is underway. Allen Putney is Vice Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) for World Heritage, and his role is a bit different from that of his IUCN Secretariat colleagues.

My Secretariat colleagues concern themselves with IUCN’s major responsibilities outlined in the Convention itself - especially with respect to the evaluation of nominations for new sites and the state of conservation of established sites - and with the press.

We have agreed that I focus on activities that tend to matter most to WCPA members, particularly the building of capacities (individual, institutional, and financial) for effective management. I help out with nominations and/or state of conservation reports where I have particular knowledge. This is mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, where I have worked for a good part of the past four decades. This division of responsibilities seems to work well enough, and amplifies the thematic and geographical impact of the IUCN team’s inputs.

The early round of coordinating meetings with colleagues from the other advisory bodies (ICOMOS and ICCROM) and the World Heritage Centre, the daily IUCN team meeting, and the Bureau Meeting are over and the Committee Sessions have begun. My presence is not needed at the sessions themselves, for now, so it is time to reflect a bit and blog!

I come to these meetings with mixed feelings, because at heart I am basically a field person. Even though I am a licensed pilot, I feel more comfortable dealing with issues on the ground than in the air. I know at some level there is a need for these kinds of meetings to elicit commitments to shared goals, guide international processes, and harness multiple actors.

At the same time, I have enough field experience to know that in all too many instances, the fine words, superbly crafted texts, and lofty intentions have little impact on the ground. Indeed, it is probably not too much of a stretch to wonder if the majority of World Heritage site managers will ever hear of what happened here, and those that do hear about it may not always find the content too relevant to their daily concerns.

But this is the Convention instrument we have, and these are the processes that have been agreed after long deliberative and democratic processes. So we have to make the best of it, always pushing a bit the outer limits of the art of the possible.

And then there is the social side. How wonderful it is to see dear colleagues, discover new acquaintances, and get back in touch with my Latino side, all the while enjoying the hospitality, art, culture, dance, and yeah - just good vibes - from Brazil and Latin America. All in all, not a bad place to be, as long as you can deal with the pace and long hours, and don’t take yourself too seriously!