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Author: Kristy Faccer ~ Project Coordiantor, World Conservation Union, South Africa Country Office (IUCN-SA)

( Article Type: Explanation )

The IUCN role and function in South Africa
The World Conservation Union, also known as the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), was established in Fontainebleau, France, in 1948 as the world’s first international conservation organisation. Known globally for its ability to convene diverse groups for progressive dialogue and agreement and for its scientific expertise, the IUCN opened an office in South Africa at the request of President Nelson Mandela in 1998. The IUCN South Africa Country Office was established to fulfil a critical function in the newly democratised state and promote the Union’s shared vision of a ‘just world that values and conserves nature’.

The IUCN’s convening power is often attributed to its unique membership of conservation organisations and special-interest groups, which features over 1 100 states, government agencies and non-governmental organisations worldwide. Together with over 10 000 expert commission members and 62 Global Secretariat offices, member organisations are one of the three main pillars of the IUCN. The IUCN in South Africa (IUCN-SA) works with regional commission members and over 20 member organisations in South Africa, both from civil society and government sectors. While linked to the regional base in Harare and headquarters in Gland, IUCN-SA has national jurisdiction, targeting issues specifically related to the South African context within the IUCN’s global and regional mandate. Where appropriate, it also extends its reach into southern Africa on specific programmes and projects.

The IUCN-SA has played an important role, both nationally and regionally, in elevating environmental priorities on agendas for sustainable development, and is particularly known for its policy work, its role in the World Summit for Sustainable Development and the staging of the World Parks Congress, and its management of projects dealing with protected areas, enterprise development and water demand and management. The IUCN-SA also provides technical and scientific support to a range of government agencies, NGOs and the private sector, which are aimed at promoting the values and vision that the IUCN shares with these partners.

The IUCN is governed by a set of statutes and regulations and led by a President and Council elected every four years at the World Conservation Congress. The Council functions in a similar way to a board of directors, meeting once or twice a year to maintain oversight and general control of the affairs of the IUCN, subject to the ultimate authority of member organisations that come together at each World Conservation Congress.

In 2004, at the World Conservation Congress held in Bangkok, Mohammed Valli Moosa, former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in South Africa, was elected IUCN President. Valli Moosa has attracted international acclaim as a key negotiator during the drafting of South Africa’s new Constitution and through his mediation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg) and the Fifth IUCN World Parks Congress (Durban), both of which were held in South Africa due largely to Moosa’s initiative and effort. He was appointed to the position of Minister of Constitutional Affairs in President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet in 1994, had been an Executive Member of the United Democratic Front (UDF) since the 1980s (during which time he was imprisoned on four occasions by the apartheid regime) and has been a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) since 1991.

Moosa named education and awareness as one of the most significant challenges facing conservation over the next decade. As such, and over the course of his four-year term, he planned to broaden the scope and impact of the world’s largest conservation network in a way that will mobilise the general public to take action on behalf of nature conservation. Moosa intended to strengthen the link between poverty alleviation and conservation, work to halt the rampant loss of biodiversity, and support governments in implementing their conservation commitments.