December 1, 2003. Provides an overview of the World Parks Congress (Durban, September 2003) and its results for funders and civil society organizations with a special emphasis on the significance of the meeting to indigenous communities worldwide.

Executive Summary

The World Parks Congress, organized by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), is held every ten years to appraise the state of protected areas (PAs) and set an agenda for PAs for the upcoming decade. The September 2003 meeting was the fifth gathering of the World Parks Congress (initially convened as the World Conference on National Parks in 1962).

The previous Congress held in Caracas, Venezuela, 1992 set the stage for this meeting by highlighting existing gaps -- the low level of community participation in decision making, the lack of attention paid to biodiversity and surrounding areas, and the inability of decision-makers to balance costs and benefits in a sound manner -- and issuing a call for countries to identify additional areas of critical importance for sustaining biodiversity.

Two key outcomes emerged from the 1992 meeting:

  • an Action Plan that set the target of extending the protected area network to encompass, at minimum, ten percent of each major biome by 2000; and,
  • the Caracas Accord, which gave birth to the IUCN Category System, recognizing areas of particular importance to conservation (Bishop, 2003).

The 2003 Congress was charged with setting new commitments and generating policy recommendations for protected areas worldwide through the drafting of five key documents: The Durban Accord; The Durban Action Plan; Message to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); Recommendations; and, Emerging Issues. The core issues of the Fifth World Parks Congress included: the rights of indigenous peoples in relation to protected areas; the rights and roles of industries such as mining and tourism; the transboundary nature of PAs; the under-representation of the marine environment in the PA network; and, the monetary, spiritual and other values of protected areas. The draft document distributed to Congress participants, A Guide to: Securing Protected Areas in the Face of Global Change -- Options & Guidelines, outlines global change factors impacting protected area viability and sets forth options and guidelines for making protected area systems more equitable (WCPA, August 2003).

The Congress generated several successful outcomes: a greater recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights; an acceptance of the complexity of issues surrounding global change; and, the establishment of new protected areas and concrete targets for parks based on ecosystems and geographic regions. Some of the successes -- official and un-official -- achieved or announced at the WPC, which will impact the next decade of protected areas conservation, include:

  • An increased role for indigenous peoples at the discussion table, shaping 'official' outputs;
  • Balanced and open discussions with a variety of stakeholders;
  • An expanded concept of protected areas to include spiritual and sacred values and to span physical boundaries;
  • The recognition that compliance with IP, mobile peoples and local community rights is necessary when establishing and managing existing and future PAs;
  • The adoption of targets -- development and implementation of participatory mechanisms for restitution of traditional lands; participation in the establishment and management of protected areas by indigenous and mobile peoples, local communities and other minorities; implementation of communication programmes that ensure their participation; and, establishment of mechanisms to guarantee their receipt of benefits establishment of mechanisms to guarantee their receipt of benefits establishment of mechanisms to guarantee their receipt of benefits -- to be achieved by 2010;
  • A collection of commitments from governments and NGOs to establish new protected areas, increase pa funding, and develop strategic partnerships and incentives with a variety of stakeholders; and,
  • A vehicle to ensure continued representation of indigenous peoples at international processes through the on-going Indigenous Peoples Ad-Hoc Working Group on Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation.

Yet, the true significance of the Parks Congress went beyond its outputs and the issues it covered. The meeting’s importance came from its design, which allowed indigenous peoples to actively join the ‘official’ discussion process and shape the 'official' outputs, such as the WPC Recommendations. This level of participation served to balance the influence of the corporate interests that were involved in the discussions and highlighted the emerging trend of stakeholder inclusion that places significant importance on preparatory meetings and solutions that are integrative and collaborative.