Having taken over the responsibilities as Regional Director for Pan-Europe one of my key tasks is to strengthen IUCN’s role in Brussels and within the EU. It may seem a contradiction, as the new Regional Director and some of the key coordination functions will for the next few years be based in Gland, in the IUCN Conservation Centre that also houses our global Headquarters (along with the Ramsar Convention secretariat, the MAVA Foundation and the global secretariat of the World Association for Zoos and Aquaria).
Seven years ago we started operations in Brussels from a small one-room secretariat, now we have grown to occupy a whole building with 25 staff. Over the past years the office has: been the secretariat to the Countdown 2010 Initiative; coordinated the European Habitats Forum; been co-secretariat of the European Parliamentary Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development; and has been instrumental in a number of activities in Europe and its overseas territories, including the running of successful conferences in Brussels, Lisbon, Reunion Island and Prague.
But now, at the start of a new year and the start of a new decade how do we build on this sound foundation? How do we strengthen our relations with the various EU institutions, the European Members State embassies, and the NGO community in Brussels? The EU has changed and evolved since we started our work here. The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 has lead to a stronger Parliament and a new President. The developments have also resulted in changes to the European Commission with a split between Environment and Climate Change and a separation of Energy and Transport.
On the global political front, the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit did not result in the binding agreements that we had hoped for, but it did highlight the need to consider nature when assessing options for mitigation and adaptation. The upcoming global Biodiversity Summit in November 2010 in Japan will hopefully create awareness about the values of nature and the cost of not addressing the ongoing degradation of our natural resources. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, coordinated by Pavan Sukhdev from UNEP with strong IUCN support, will be key in illustrating to our political leaders the costs and benefits of nature conservation.
Working together with the EU Presidencies throughout 2010 and the following years we will make sure that the economics of nature are incorporated into EU policies and EC programmes. IUCN is already working with the Spanish Government and the Council of Europe to ensure that the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity is a significant event in Madrid on 26 January. Over the coming months we will continue to work closely with the Spanish Presidency to further the agenda and we are already in close collaboration with Belgium who will take over the EU Presidency in July. The results from the Biodiversity Summit in Japan will feed into the programme of the Hungarian Presidency, which starts in January 2011, and with whom we are already working.
The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty means that the European Parliament will play an important role in conservation over the coming years. As the Secretariat of the new Parliamentary Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, we will be working with Members of the European Parliament on issues related to forests, water resources management, mountains and remote areas, energy, fisheries and more. Together with GLOBE we will also host events with MEPs in Brussels. We also will engage with Parliamentarians in those EU Member States where we have active National Committees. For example, the National Committee in the Netherlands has regular meetings in The Hague with Dutch Members of Parliament.
We will need to engage with the Member States in Brussels as well, and the Council of Ministers is the obvious route. As most of the EU Members States are also State Members of IUCN, this is an area where IUCN National Committees and IUCN Membership support will play a key role. The engagement with IUCN Members is a key priority for the Pan-European Programme, and we have appointed a senior Regional Coordinator to take care of this.
Finally, we will strengthen our engagement with those EC Directorates where we are well known and develop new links with other Directorates – engaging in the discussions about Agricultural Policy reform, the EC Water Directive, European fisheries and marine conservation, the EU energy policies and the new Climate Change guidelines. We work closely with local authorities in mainland Europe and in overseas territories and we need to link this more closely with DG Region, RELEX and DG Development. We are party to discussions about wilderness in Europe with DG Environment and we are developing a landscape-wide initiative to link the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 to neigbouring countries, and promote synergy within the EU between conservation approaches between the Carpathians and the Alps. The IUCN office in Brussels will also be the Union’s gateway to European Official Development Assistance and the Brussels Office links IUCN Regional Offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America with DG Development and EuropeAid.
Last, but certainly not least, we will continue to work with the NGO community in Brussels many of whom are already Members of IUCN. Most are partners of the European Habitats Forum (EHF), and IUCN has offered to host the EHF Secretariat again starting with effect from the beginning of 2010. Through improved communication, a more targeted website and regular contact we hope to improve our working relationship with the NGO community in Brussels.
What will happen with the Countdown 2010 Initiative? One of the aspects of a time-bound initiative is that it ceases to exist when the time is up, and the current initiative will be concluded during a major event at the Biodiversity Summit in Japan on 20 October (the tenth month) 2010 at 10 minutes past 8pm (20:10). However, this will not be the end of a network of nearly 1000 partners, and an initiative that has managed European conferences, led in some of the communications actions regarding species conservation in Europe and has made a major impact on EU politics and actions. During 2010, we will implement specific programmes on business and biodiversity and on biodiversity in local governments that were nurtured by the Countdown 2010 Initiative. The TEMATEA project on Multilateral Environmental Agreements will also be enhanced. Details about other aspects of Countdown 2010 are yet to be defined, and we expect to launch a new programme of European activities during a joint conference with the Belgian Government in December 2010. Meanwhile, IUCN is also taking steps to maintain the international aspects of the Countdown 2010 Initiative through its Headquarters-based global Communications Unit.
All-in-all, 2010 – the International Year of Biodiversity - promises to be an important year for nature conservation and sustainable development in general, for IUCN worldwide and for the Pan-European Programme of IUCN in particular.
Regional Director (a.i.) Pan-Europe
The views in this article are the personal observations of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect IUCN policy or approved IUCN positions