After an amazing opening ceremony with speeches, traditional and modern Korean music, theatre and dance, where IUCN President Ashok Khosla declared the IUCN World Conservation Congress open, we all went to the botanical gardens for a big welcome reception.
The welcome speech was given by President Lee Myung-Bak of the Republic of Korea, who stressed the need to restore habitats and increase the protected area cover, promote sustainable use of natural resources and protect key biodiversity areas, including the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. His address was followed by a personal video message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who confirmed his support for IUCN, and recognised our role as Permanent Observer in the UN General Assembly.
Other speakers included the Chair of the Korean Organising Committee for the Congress and the Governor of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. The key note speech was delivered by Christian Samper from the Wildlife Conservation Society
The very well organised open-air reception was the first opportunity for all participants to mingle and to network, and this is what many Members see as one of the main values of the World Conservation Congress. Old friends meet again, partnerships are concluded, activities are designed, and information is exchanged. I met a large number of European Members and partners, several current and candidate Councilors for Europe, and many former colleagues and friends from my time in Vietnam and Bangkok.
We talked about the expectations of the next few days, about the challenges ahead for nature conservation, about the opportunities of working with the European Commission, about the ways to work more effectively with industry, and the interest from local authorities to address biodiversity issues. It was a very good start of an exciting Congress.