Today was the first day of the member’s assembly and it was long. I was at the Congress until past ten listening to an argument about whether to include ancient, primary, and intact forests in the same motion. It was soon apparent that the group wanted to create two motions. We tracked down a legal representative of the IUCN or at least an expert on the motions process and she informed us that yes we could split the motions if we absolutely had to. But, it was not ideal since groups are already supposed to have these things figured out before the WCC convenes. The consensus in the room was still the need for two separate motions and so we proceeded to go over nitty-gritty details of the text and what language to include or delete. It was interesting to see “policy” in the process of being made, albeit a very unique type of policy.
WCC passes what are called motions, which aren’t actually policies at all. Motions become resolutions which are voted on by IUCN members and these resolutions set the precedent for the international conservation agenda. Governing bodies, NGOs, and other organizations look to these resolutions to craft their agenda on conservation and other issues related to sustainability. The IUCN explains “members may, through the motions process, promote and discourage action by governments and other actors and put forward conservation issues that are then discussed in a public forum where governments, NGOS, and environmental agencies are sitting side-by-side” (2012).
Motions are taken up in contact groups. Experts and others can sit in and offer their opinions, but only members of the contact group can propose changes to the text of the motion. These changes can seem really mundane – put a comma here or a semi-colon there or, they can be really interesting. In my contact group someone proposed someone proposed a concern about the text that discussed indigenous peoples and a short discussion followed on the appropriateness of the text language. I was surprised to see this consciousness surrounding language but also impressed to see “influence” in action.
For the next five days, the WCC team will be following contact groups and the motions to resolutions process. I figure I’ll being seeing some of the same people for the next few days and hopefully the strange atmosphere I experienced today won’t carry over into tomorrow. I wouldn’t categorize the atmosphere of the room as negative or positive, but a weird space that I didn’t feel unwelcome or welcome in. Part of this could have been the lateness of the hour and the exhaustion of everyone involved. I still feel like I missed the dynamics of the room as someone completely emerged in the process would understand. As an outsider observing a process I am foreign to, I found myself confused and lost at moments. But, I’ll be at the contact group again tomorrow and piece by piece, I’ll begin to understand.
IUCN (2012). “How the World Conservation Congress Motions Process Works.”
In the field...
Follow our team as we cover international environmental policy making meetings.
Dr. Kimberly R. Marion Suiseeya, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University
Dr. Laura Zanotti, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University
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