Amid the pomp and ritual of the Native Hawaiian culture, the World Conservation Congress came to life in Honolulu on Thursday with a rally cry to save the planet.
Thousands of attendees to the largest environmental conference in U.S. history were told that the “planet is at a crossroads,“ that the Earth is in trouble and that it’s time to get serious about implementing achievable goals to fend off climate change, species extinction and environmental degradation.
And while many of the loudest cheers at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center were heard for President Barack Obama’s newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument, Gov. David Ige also won some bravos for offering his own series of sustainability initiatives.
Ige announced he was committing Hawaii to protecting 30 percent of the state’s “highest-priority watersheds” by 2030, and to “effectively managing”
30 percent of the state’s near-shore waters by 2030.
“Our reefs provide habitat for spectacular marine life and feed us,” he said.
While the state already has a “30 by 30” goal to protect forested watersheds, the ocean initiative is new and drew praise Thursday from groups such as the Nature Conservancy and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which had been lobbying for the pledge even before the Hokule‘a embarked on its worldwide voyage.
Ige also said he was committed to doubling food production by 2030 in an effort to provide greater food security through the protection of land and water, and support for farmers.
“Climate change poses the greatest threat to our forests, our coastlines and our corals,” the governor said.
“Hawaii is also the most oil-dependent state in the nation. We must do everything we can, globally and locally, to reduce our use of fossil fuels. That’s why I’m committed to reaching 100 percent renewable energy use in the electricity sector by the year 2045.”
IN ADDITION, Ige announced a new interagency plan to help protect the state against invasive species. And he said Hawaii would join the Global Island Partnership, a group made up of islands of all sizes and political statuses worldwide that work to build resilient and sustainable communities through partnerships.
“Our planet is at a crossroads,” Ige declared, “and together we can make a difference for our Island Earth.”
The opening ceremony of the International Union for Conservation of Nature event included a lavish display of Native Hawaiian culture highlighted by performances by some of the state’s top hula troupes.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana‘o Crabbe led the dancers into the Blaisdell Arena for an opening protocol ritual and then acted as master of ceremonies.
Before the event started, Pacific island leaders were greeted on the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village by double-hulled canoes in traditional protocol and with a call for action on climate change and a sustainable Pacific Ocean.
The World Conservation Congress now switches to the Hawai‘i Convention Center for nine days of workshops, presentations, exhibits, debates and meetings. More than 9,000 are participating from 192 countries.
At Thursday’s ceremony U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the throng, some wearing colorful headdresses and ethnic costumes, that this is the first time the IUCN conference is being held in the United States.
“Hawaii is the best place to hold it,” she said, because islands are on the front lines of biodiversity loss and climate change.
Jewell said her staff was “on cloud nine” celebrating the most recent addition to the national monument system, the largest marine sanctuary in the world.
“We profoundly hope it doesn’t keep that designation for long, that someone else will step forward and protect even more of this planet that we share,” she said.
BEFORE THE conference it was reported that Obama would address the summit. While he ended up skipping the event to experience the expanded monument himself at Midway Atoll on Thursday, there was one president who did address the conference: Palau’s Tommy Remengesau.
The island leader took the opportunity to applaud his American counterpart.
“I knew that the president would still remember his roots when he announced the largest marine protected area in the world. We are both island boys who grew up in cultures that respect nature and understand the need to live sustainably for the benefit of current and future generations,” he said.
Remengesau said that when it comes to conservation, Palau takes its responsibility seriously. Last year he established the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area the size of California which includes a no-take zone over 80 percent of the island state’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“I understand President Obama left for Midway Atoll today, which rests within the extraordinary new preserve he has created. And so I say, ‘Good start, President Obama. And when you’ve protected 80 percent of your EEZ, then the United States will be finally ready to join the big leagues,’” the leader said to laughs.
DESPITE THE RECENT creation of a number of protected ocean areas, only
2 percent of the world’s waters are designated as protected areas, Remengesau said. But marine scientists say 30 percent of the ocean should be protected to make a difference in safeguarding fish stocks and biodiversity, he said.
“It’s got to be 30 percent,” he said.
He said Palau has proposed a motion to the IUCN conference to target ocean protections at 30 percent. He implored the delegates for support so that there’s a mandate for action heading into a United Nations oceans conference scheduled for June in New York.
“The planet is indeed at the crossroads,” he said. “And this is the moment to get it right. But time is not on our side. We must rise together with the speed and determination necessary to meet the most urgent and daunting challenges that humanity has ever faced.”