The conference has an interesting structure. In an effort to provide some organization for such a large conference (8,000 participants and 800 panels/events) there are three main “streams,” including “Healthy Environments, Healthy People”—the reason our panel was accepted—along with “A New Climate for Change” and “Safeguarding the Diversity of Life.” The participants are also encouraged to join one of 12 “journeys” (e.g., “Forests Journey,” “Species Journey”) to help bring them together for smaller meetings and social events. I found that I couldn’t get into the Forests Happy Hour this evening because I hadn’t signed up for the “Journey.” Some incentives do matter—if only I had known!
Despite the “healthy” headlines, very few panels discuss the relationships between human or animal health and the environment, and there are no health-related “journeys.” The one bright spot regarding interdisciplinary linkages thus far was an announcement by the Australian national parks director that he would host a major “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” meeting in 2010 where 50 percent of the attendees would be health professionals.
Some sessions are held in the Knowledge Café, a large room where folks join one of 12 round conversation tables based on special topics. The United Nations has funded a special program, called “Poble,” which has brought a significant number of indigenous people, in tribal headgear and colorful traditional dress, to the conference. The Poble meetings are in a large room with a low stage and no chairs; attendees sit or lie on the floor while listening to the presentations of their colleagues. The room has been full every time I have peered in.
Attendance seems to vary considerably among sessions. A Knowledge Café roundtable meeting on climate change attracted mid-career pros from the Global Environment Facility, the European Union, the United Nations, and scientific organizations, and the level of the unmoderated discussion was extremely high. Participants were well-informed about the issues facing the international community over the next few months, and were also familiar with the latest ideas regarding how to address climate change. On the other hand, a panel session on accountability in conservation programs and among environmental NGOs attracted only nine attendees who listened to four (good!) speakers. After tomorrow’s sessions, I’ll have an even better sense of which themes are attracting the attention of the conservation professionals here.
John Pielemeier is an international development consultant. During his 22-year career at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), he served as USAID mission director in Brazil, USAID/Washington office director for South Asia, and as a special assistant in the office of the USAID administrator.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Fancher and the Woodrow Wilson Center.