Haub Law’s Contributions to the IUCN’s 2020 World Conservation Congress

By: Brooke Mercaldi

Institutions and organizations around the world participated in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in September 2021 to address some of today’s most pressing environmental issues. The IUCN is comprised of more than 1,400 Members from over 170 countries.[1] This international body holds a World Conservation Congress every four years at which environmental advocates from around the world gather to collaborate in enhancing governance for the global environment.[2] The IUCN’s 2020 World Conservation Congress was postponed twice and was ultimately held in Marseilles, Frances in September 2021 as a hybrid event, allowing many to join via Zoom.

IUCN Members have the opportunity to submit motions to the World Conservation Congress that, if adopted, become part of the IUCN’s body of policies. Submitted motions must be co-sponsored by at least ten other Members, undergo rigorous negotiations in contact groups, and are eventually voted on by the Members.[3]

The Global Center for Environmental Legal Studies (GCELS) at Haub Law had the unique opportunity to participate in the complex, and at times arduous, process of international environmental policymaking. Through GCELS, Haub Law is one of only two law schools in the country that is a voting IUCN member, alongside the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law.

Faculty and students in GCELS drafted, solicited co-sponsors for, and negotiated the following motions:

  • Motion 38: Promoting biodiversity preservation through environmentally friendly energy transformation measures
  • Motion 44: Actions to strengthen food sovereignty and security of Indigenous peoples and peasant communities
  • Motion 48: Renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery to Rediscover care for Mother Earth
  • Motion 135: Promoting human, animal, and environmental health and preventing pandemics through the One Health approach and by addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss

GCELS successfully ensured that all four of these motions were adopted by the IUCN.[4] However, motion 135 was a particularly difficult motion to pass and illustrates the complexity of environmental policymaking.[5] The motion addresses the need to prevent future zoonotic spillovers that pose risks to human health, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. GCELS’s original motion specifically called for, among other things, the strengthening of environmental impact assessment procedures by including considerations of potential zoonotic spillovers. The motion also urged the IUCN to adopt the One Health approach, which is defined here:

“One Health is the universal policy and practice of care for the integrity, stability, resilience, and beauty of Earth’s biotic community, through nurturing the interdependent health links that are shared among humans, wildlife, domesticated animals, plants and ecosystems, and all nature. One Health transcends and unites the contributions of the life sciences for stewardship of ecosystem integrity and biodiversity and well-being of life on Earth.”[6]

The One Health approach is increasing in prevalence, as evidenced by the World Health Organization’s establishment of an expert working group on Biodiversity, Climate, One Health, and Nature-Based Solutions.[7]

Unfortunately, the motion as submitted was initially rejected. Luckily, however, a GCELS faculty member, Professor Nicholas Robinson, attended the World Conservation Congress in person and successfully advocated for the merging the motion with another that also promoted the One Health approach, and the motion was accepted on appeal. The zoonosis motion then became Motion 135, which now promotes One Health and the use of pathogen considerations in impact assessment procedures. The motion was passed with an overwhelming majority after enduring intense negotiations with representatives from many different countries who were particularly concerned with ensuring the language accommodated the various forms of government structures and priorities.

GCELS’s experience as a voting Member in the World Conservation Congress illustrated the value of involving students in such an impactful event. Not only did the students learn to draft motions and solicit co-sponsors from around the world, but they were also able to participate in negotiations with leading environmentalists from over 170 different countries. The unique opportunity to be actively involved in an international environmental Congress is a valuable and empowering experience. As previously noted, Haub Law is one of only two law schools in the United States that are voting Members in the IUCN, but hopefully more schools will soon become involved to allow future environmental lawyers the opportunity to experience important international environmental discussions.

Image from: Instagram (Prof. Robinson is sitting down in the middle)

[1] IUCN Members, International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], https://www.iucn.org/about/members/iucn-members (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).

[2] World Conservation Congress, International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], https://www.iucn.org/about/world-conservation-congress (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).

[3] Motions, International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], https://www.iucncongress2020.org/event/members-assembly/motions (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).

[4] List of Motions, International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], https://www.iucncongress2020.org/assembly/motions (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).

[5] 135 – Promoting human, animal and environmental health, and preventing pandemics through the One Health approach and by addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss, International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], https://www.iucncongress2020.org/motion/135 (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).

[6] Our Earth Matters: Pathways to a Better Common Environmental Future 27 (Bharat H. Desai ed., 2021).

[7] New WHO-IUCN Expert Working Group on Biodiversity, Climate, One Health and Nature-based Solutions, World Health Organization [WHO], https://www.who.int/news/item/30-03-2021-who-iucn-expert-working-group-biodiversity (last visited Sept. 28, 2021).


  1. This was such an informative article, Brooke! I am proud to be a member of the Haub Law community as it is one of the two law schools in the country that are voting members in the IUCN. I am also pleased to know that Professor Robinson successfully advocated for Motion 135 by creatively merging it with another motion that promoted the One Health approach.

  2. Brooke, this was an incredibly interesting read! I am so glad to hear that the World Conservation Congress was finally able to convene after two postponements. I am especially proud that Haub Law is one of only two law schools with voting status and that this community has had such a strong impact on the Congress and the IUCN. Passing Motion 135 sounded like a difficult feat, but its benefits are sure to live on.

  3. Amazing article Brooke! The article highlights well of how motions, like Motion 135, can be restructured or modified even during the Congress. It was great to be able to work with you and other students and professors on these motions, and I’m glad you got the word out about Pace’s involvement.

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