Video Message from Razan Al Mubarak, IUCN Presidential Candidate

“Bonjour. Salaam aleikum. Buenos días. And hello.

Today marks the moment that we've all been waiting for for so long. The opening of the World Conservation Congress, both in-person in beautiful Marseille, or virtually from all over the world. But in person or virtually, we've all pledged to participate, to engage, to vote. Because not only do we carry IUCN, its mission, its vision, and its promise in our hearts and in our minds, but because this is truly a moment in history where we must bring conservation in the mainstream of the sustainability agendas. Where we must democratize the science and art of conservation by making it accessible for all. Now is the time for IUCN to really reassert itself and its influence on the global stage and bring back this grand vision of the Union, the one that we all signed up for.

If elected, I will be the second woman to lead the Union in its 75-year history and its first president from West Asia. I know firsthand that a diversity of voices equals strength. Should I be elected, I will endeavor to build a more diverse and more inclusive, and a more proactive IUCN. A Union by the members, for the members. One that acts with both a sense of urgency and purpose that this moment demands and future requires.

As president, I will bring two decades of diverse conservation experience both from the public and private sectors. And I have come to understand the challenges facing the Union through my 20-year engagement with the IUCN as a member, as a framework donor, and a strong supporter to the SSC. And I will endeavor to bring a fresh and energetic perspective to address those challenges.

We all agree that the time for procrastination is over and that we must be bold, we must be fast and we must innovate. Armed with the optimism and the humility of the heart, we can ensure that IUCN is a more effective advocate for nature conservation, and I have no doubt that we will succeed together. For nature needs us and we need nature.

Please remember to cast your vote wherever you may be. Thank you again for your consideration. Thank you for your support. Speaking to you throughout the campaign has truly been an honor of a lifetime.”

Watch the Video Message from Razan on YouTube

MBZ Fund to provide relief grants to help grassroots conservation NGOs survive pandemic and recession

Many grassroots conservation organizations are facing layoffs, cutbacks, and even the prospect of ceasing operations completely because of the twin crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession.

In response to the crises, Razan Al Mubarak, the Founding Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZ Fund), announced this week that the organization will expand its grant-making focus to include relief grants of up to $25,000. The grants can be used to cover core operating expenses, such as staff salaries, office rent, and other essential overhead costs. 

"It's clear that conservation organizations cannot protect threatened species if they cannot meet basic needs like staff salaries and rent,” said Ms. Al Mubarak. “Our hope is that other foundations and philanthropists join the MBZ Fund in easing restrictions so conservation organizations can make it through this challenging time and weather the economic impact of the pandemic.” 

Ms Al Mubarak said the Fund decided to expand its grant-making practices after conducting a survey in April 2020 of more than 300 of its grantees in 85 different countries. Aimed at gauging the effects of the pandemic on its grantees, the survey found that many conservationists were very concerned about the financial futures of their organizations. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said their organization had been negatively impacted, with 57 percent reporting their organization was experiencing financial difficulties and 22 percent reporting their organizations planned to eliminate jobs. Many grantees highlighted the loss of revenue for their organizations due to park, zoo, and aquarium closures, the decline in eco-tourism, and the reduction in student enrollment for courses and fieldwork experiences. A summary report of the survey can be viewed here.

The MBZ Fund is a philanthropic endowment providing micro-grants of up to $25,000 to support in-the-field conservation projects for the world's most threatened species. Since 2009, the Fund has provided over $20 million to more than 2,150 projects in over 160 countries, supporting more than 1,400 different species and subspecies. Many grantees have succeeded in rediscovering lost species, discovering new ones, and reducing threats to countless others.

VIDEO: Greetings from Razan Al Mubarak, Candidate for IUCN President

As humanity comes together like never before to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, Razan Al Mubarak is more committed than ever to her campaign to serve as President of the IUCN beginning in January 2021.

In this video message, Ms Al Mubarak discusses why the work of the IUCN, the world's foremost scientific authority on conservation and the environment, will be critical as the world comes together to recover, rebuild and protect the integrity of the planet. She also discusses how she will use the coming months to continue her campaign to engage with IUCN members, hear their ideas and concerns, and collectively develop an enhanced vision for Union at this critical moment in history.

Statement as Nominee for IUCN President

Within the next year, we will see important environmental negotiations and hopefully commitments to decisive actions by the world's nations. There will be the drive to agree to a new set of targets for halting biodiversity loss during the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference. Furthermore, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow in late 2020 amid increasing urgency.

I would hope for the IUCN to build further on its existing role in supporting these global initiatives, and the next IUCN Programme for 2021 to 2024 will be essential in making the Union even more relevant and recognised as an agent of progress and positive change in addressing the biggest challenges of our time.

While IUCN is a conservation organization, the Union must continue to support sustainable development. IUCN should strive for a world in which all people have a quality of life that gives them both dignity and opportunities, but within the ecological limits of our planet. IUCN's science-based approach and its diverse membership enable it to rise above the polarization of ideas and opinions that so often prevent progress.

The IUCN's reputation, legitimacy and effectiveness stem from its diverse membership including states, government agencies, NGOs and indigenous groups; and from the unparalleled expertise of its six Commissions. The conservation of nature can only be successful when we work together to tackle the challenges we face, and IUCN is all about working together. We must act together now to save the planet, with all its species and ecosystems, for tomorrow.

If elected, I will bring future-oriented and innovative leadership that is inclusive of all generations, backgrounds and origins. We will work together across boundaries to define the governance, strategies and measures of success at IUCN.

Under my leadership, the Union will evolve and demonstrate an undivided commitment to success and achievement from all the Union's constituencies.

My background and experience have shown me the power of engaging and being open to new ideas and approaches, as well as the power of listening to the needs and aspirations of everyone, including listening to nature. The challenges we face are huge. We are leading the way for a new generation that does not have luxury of time. As a Union, we need to be focused on delivering results and be proactive in finding solutions and tools.

Priority areas include:

Governance & Leadership: The leadership and governance structures of the Union must focus on ensuring that all of the constituencies in IUCN are engaged in implementing the Programme so that the Union can make significant progress in achieving its vision;

Membership & Service: The members' participation in formulating and delivering the Union's Programme must be increased. IUCN needs to listen to its members' needs and to offer science-based services and tools that allow them to maximize the benefits from their participation in the Union;

Policy Support: The Union must provide science-based, innovative and relevant information, tools and guidelines, based on accepted global standards, that allow its members to fill the science-policy gap; and enable the development and implementation of evidence-based policies that respect the urgent imperative of nature conservation and which also ensure that the interests, challenges and needs of all stakeholders are addressed;

Programme: The task of the President is to oversee and guide the implementation of the IUCN 2021-2024 Programme of Work, and to encourage and nurture a culture of assessing impacts and continuously adapting strategies to results and impacts. The core IUCN knowledge products must be secure, sustained and promoted; and the IUCN Programme must be a key component in achieving the 2030 SDGs related to environment and nature;

Finance & Resources: The finances of the Union must be strengthened, diversified and at a scale conducive to its mission and ambition. New innovative and pragmatic support mechanisms need to be set up, and donors must see the value provided by the Union. The sustainability of the Union needs to include clear measures to attract and retain the best minds in nature conservation.

Species Conservation: The power of IUCN's science to guide policies and actions

In 2008, Abu Dhabi hosted the first IUCN Species Survival Commission's Specialist Group Chairs meeting. It was a decisive moment for the SSC. It was the first face-to-face meeting of all the Specialist Group Chairs. Since then, the SSC leadership has met in Abu Dhabi in 2012 and 2015 and again in October 2019. Four meetings in 11 years. These meetings allow the SSC to plan and strategize to help save the world's most threatened species.

That first meeting in 2008 was also a decisive moment for Abu Dhabi and its efforts for global species conservation. At that first meeting the seeds for the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund were sown. We learned from the SSC the requirements to facilitate their species conservation efforts, namely, well-timed financial support, often in amounts less than $25,000, for direct species conservation efforts without significant bureaucratic hurdles. Since 2009 the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund has supported more than 2,000 grants with almost $20 million dollars going to 1,300 species and subspecies.

Since then the worldwide environmental narrative has changed, sometimes for the better, but unfortunately, also for the worse. While globally, there is progress on addressing certain issues such as plastics pollution, climate change awareness and the increasing pressure the youth are placing on world leaders to act decisively and respond to the challenges of climate change; sadly we have also seen the almost unfettered burning of tropical rain forests and an acceleration in the rate of species' extinction. We are even losing species upon which our own survival may well depend, such as the humble honeybee and a myriad of pollinators.

Abu Dhabi's initial support to SSC was born from the emotional, spiritual connection of our nation and its leaders to nature and people. It was not born from a strategic plan, or a prioritisation exercise. It was born only from Abu Dhabi's understanding that there is no future where there is no biodiversity and no people.

According to the recent IPBES report, much of it drawing on IUCN data and research, one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. It is very interesting to note that the main, immediate threats to species are the same traditional, exacerbated threats that have endangered species for as long as the conservation movement existed: over-exploitation, habitat destruction, invasive species, and economic development with all the pressure it puts on nature. Climate change is an added very serious threat; but focusing ONLY on climate change, will not save many species from extinction.

Here in our region, we have seen the effects of this decline first-hand. After surviving many years in the harsh desert environment, the majestic Saudi Gazelle was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2008. In the UAE, the Hawksbill Turtle – which forages in our waters and nests on our beaches – and the Arabian Leopard are both Critically Endangered.

Let us not be complacent about some of our less threatened species, for example the Hammour – or Orange Spotted Grouper – a staple of our fisheries, while currently classified as “Least Concern”, is currently declining in the UAE. The pressures upon our biodiversity seem only to increase, and we need to be ever vigilant.

As a government leader tasked to preserve our national environment, I have learned and experienced the needs and challenges to balance and combine development and environmental protection, the need for adequate policies and legal frameworks, the need for international collaborations, and the need for qualified people and accurate data.

Abu Dhabi's efforts have paid off to a degree and our waters are still home to the world's second largest population of Dugong. Our scientists and rangers have discovered several new species, and we are protecting more terrestrial and marine biodiversity than ever before, and this happened at a time when our country developed tremendously.

Direct and local actions are also a requirement for many species. They cannot survive only through better policies and international agreements.

Abu Dhabi is proud of its contributions to the Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme, which has succeeded in bringing this beautiful creature back to its historical home in Chad, where over 200 animals have been reintroduced in less than three years and are now living free again. And this is a species that was listed as Extinct in the Wild in the IUCN Red List. This initiative demonstrates the incredible power of cross-country collaboration to create environmental impact – something the SSC knows a great deal about.

I mention the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, as it is undoubtedly the best known knowledge product of IUCN, a product that many governments are using to set priorities, develop plans and invest their resources wisely. The power of unbiased science-based knowledge is tremendous when applied to guide the development of adequate policies and actions.

After all, conservation transcends borders – and it is the responsibility of us all to work together in securing a future for the next generation and beyond.

At a time when some are questioning the very existence of the environmental threats that are damaging our Earth, we must work to provide unbiased evidence that empowers sound decision-making for the sake of our planet. And we need to do this in a framework where every level of society can engage, including governments, civil society, indigenous communities, and our youth.

Abu Dhabi is proud of its long-standing partnership with the IUCN. This is an organisation that has so much to offer and Abu Dhabi strongly supports the critical efforts of the IUCN. We all know that if we had to create the IUCN today, as opposed to when it was first established more than 70 years ago, we would probably not be able to do it again given today's divisive political climate. We must support the IUCN but we must also be aware of its shortfalls and work to improve it and help it stay relevant at a time when it is needed more than ever.

There were nearly 300 SSC leaders attending the most recent meeting in Abu Dhabi – including commission leadership, IUCN staff and Red List Authority coordinators. But worldwide, the effort is much greater. More than 10,000 volunteers are taking part in the SSC's activities across over 140 working groups and together we must make a difference.

Together we can raise awareness of our vital work in protecting the world's most threatened species.

Together, we can engage with everyone as we take forward our mission to protect the life that gives us life.

Let us not delay and let us ensure our actions are meaningful and efficient, as extinction is forever.

(This essay is adapted from a speech I presented at the fourth meeting of the SSC leaders in Abu Dhabi in October 2019.)