SYDNEY - Australia unveiled its newest national park, Everlasting Swamp, on Wednesday as thousands of delegates gathered in Sydney for the start of the once-in-a-decade World Parks Congress.
The week-long forum organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is set to lay out the global agenda for protected areas for the next 10 years.
"The hope of the congress is not bemoaning about the fate of nature, but rather looking at it as the provider of solutions, of human well-being," IUCN's Director-General Julia Marton-Lefevre told reporters.
She spoke as the New South Wales government announced that Everlasting Swamp, in the state's northern wetlands, is set to be its newest protected area. A portion of the new national park is already a state conservation zone.
The push to better manage some of the world's most biodiverse sites comes as part of a global effort to address the impact of climate change on the environment.
Marton-Lefevre said delegates in Sydney, including scientists and activists, would be developing a roadmap to meet a global 2020 target of protecting 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of marine areas.
About 15 per cent of the world's land mass and three per cent of its marine areas - more than 200,000 sites around the globe - are currently designated as protected areas.
Host nation Australia said it had already met its 17 per cent land conservation target, which Environment Minister Greg Hunt described as a "downpayment to the future".
"This congress is about protecting the great forests, and the ocean and the savannah lands, not just for 30 or 50 years but for 100 years," Hunt said.
"It is about the gift we give to our grandchildren and their grandchildren. And it is a congress focused on realistic hope that we have made progress, but that we can do better and we can make commitments that will last... for centuries." The World Parks Congress, which opened Wednesday, involves more than 5,000 people, including five heads of state and 30 environment ministers, and overlapped with the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit.
Hunt said the two-day meeting had supported a push towards ambitious goals set out in the United Nations climate summit in September of halving the loss of natural rainforests by 2020, and ending it by 2030.
A draft plan discussed at the meeting suggests restoring millions of hectares of degraded rainforests in Asia-Pacific over the next decade and encouraging business to end deforestation from palm oil, paper and timber activities by 2020.
It also urges nations to step up efforts to combat illegal logging, halt the movement of illegally logged timber across regional borders and improve national systems monitoring the health of rainforests.
"This is not the solution to everything, but it is a profound potential start," Hunt said at the end of the talks, which were established by the government as part of an election promise.
Papua New Guinea pledged to accelerate its plans to end deforestation at the meeting, while Indonesia said it would preserve 63 million hectares of significant peat land.