Our experts in action: Constanza Martinez, IUCN Senior Policy Officer

14 May 2012 | Article

How to survive a 10-day environmental conference where you are working from dawn ’til dusk trying to convince the world’s decision makers to take nature conservation seriously.

That’s the challenge often facing Constanza Martinez, a Senior Policy Officer with IUCN. Her role is to convince decision makers that natural solutions are key to addressing global challenges such as poverty and climate change. 

“An early morning jog followed by a strong coffee usually helps keep up the stamina!”

Connie’s job takes her from UN meetings in New York to community gatherings in countries like Costa Rica where she gets first-hand experience of communities taking responsibility for their natural resources.

“I see my job as translating international environmental policies and decisions into action on the ground, trying to bring real improvement for people and the natural world."

A big part of Connie’s job is trying to connect all the different issues that people are working on such as water, health, development and get them to take a holistic, coordinated approach. There are many areas of common interest and biodiversity conservation is the big one. Connie and her colleagues explain how nature conservation is critical to people’s health; their livelihoods; their economies.

“We need to talk to the non-converted—the negotiators at the World Trade Organization, the financial sector, the business community, and so on, and really push the message that we have to use resources sustainably. It’s the only way.”

Good communication is key, says Connie. The best way to influence people is to talk to them one-on-one and build trust, but this takes time.

“A highlight for me was the meeting held last September in Bonn organised by the UN for civil society organisations to prepare for the Rio+20 summit. I talked to the big social and humanitarian NGOs, many of them who work on climate change, and said that climate change cannot be solved without biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity ended up in the meeting’s outcome document. That was a great moment!”

For Rio the challenge is that 20 years on, we haven’t moved forward, says Connie. "We’ve figured out what’s wrong but few leaders have the courage to take the bold steps needed. For example, population issues. Population pressure is a key factor for conservation and sustainable development but is not properly addressed."

“We’re not addressing the key issues that need to be discussed like how to tackle the relentless pursuit of economic growth and prosperity. These will be key challenges for future generations and will continue to put huge pressure on the environment.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure that the decisions made by high level politicians are grounded in the reality of ordinary people. And that’s one of IUCN’s strengths. It works at all levels and can implement decisions, as well as make sure that lessons from the field are fed back up to the international arena.

So how can IUCN best make an impact in Rio?

“We can help steer the themes of Rio in the right direction. The issue of governance needs to be steered towards shared power for sustainability; green economy needs to address human well-being, health and happiness, not just economic growth.”
When faced with the sceptics, Connie responds: “Making Rio a success is the responsibility of all of us.”