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  5. Connecting the Canadian Museum of Nature with the “United Nations for the natural world”

Connecting the Canadian Museum of Nature with the “United Nations for the natural world”

© Canadian Museum of Nature.


Meg Beckel, lower right, joins other delegates at the Natural Heritage Campus for the virtual participation in the IUCN Congress.

October 18, 2021

It was more than business-as-usual this September at the Canadian Museum of Nature. A dozen or so of Canada’s nature leaders convened over a week at the museum’s research centre in Gatineau—masks ready, distancing in place—to listen, learn, discuss and vote on motions about critical issues affecting the planet.

They did so along with thousands of others around the world as part of the Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With the pandemic restricting travel, the museum’s Natural Heritage Campus became a regional hub for Canadian delegates associated with the museum, Parks Canada and other agencies to virtually connect to the Congress in Marseille, France. 

Pressing themes related to climate change, biodiversity loss, urban impacts on conservation, species at risk and connecting people with nature dominated the workshops, panel discussions, and policy motions. Many of the outcomes will inform the post-2020 global biodiversity framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The offer to host Canadian delegates marked another milestone for the museum and its decades-long involvement with the IUCN. After all, the museum is a founding member of the Canadian Committee of the IUCN (CC-IUCN) and has hosted its Secretariat since 1992.

“If you think of the IUCN as the United Nations for the natural world, membership in the Canadian Committee means being a global participant to further knowledge and awareness about the importance of conservation and sustainable development,” explains Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The gathering in Gatineau required some creative planning to ensure Canadian participation in Marseille. The six-hour time difference meant early mornings for the Canadian delegation, which included Beckel and the museum’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon.

Meg Beckel © Canadian Museum of Nature


Canadian delegates join a session of the Congress from a hub at the museum’s Natural Heritage Campus.

Nap areas were set up, and hubs in meeting rooms were provided so that different sessions could be watched virtually by small groups at the same time. A WhatsApp connection also allowed Canadian delegates from across the country to remain in touch.

Among the many outcomes from the Congress was a motion about Natural Capital, the means to define the economic value of nature in providing ecosystem services. “I am delighted that IUCN will now create a policy to govern the approach of all IUCN members on defining and measuring Natural Capital,” says Beckel.

And while attendance in person at Marseille was missed, the museum looks forward to the next Congress where it can build on the success it achieved at the last such event, held in Hawaii in 2016. There, Meg Beckel helped to host the launch of NatureforAll, an IUCN campaign that continues to educate and engage people about the value of nature in their lives. And Dr. Bob Anderson, then Director of the museum’s Beaty Centre for Species Discovery, illuminated delegates with a presentation on the importance of natural history collections in informing biodiversity conservation.

Read more about the results of the 2021 IUCN Congress.

About the IUCN and the Canadian Museum of Nature

The IUCN was founded in 1948, just after the creation of the United Nations in 1945.

One of the more prominent IUCN achievements was the implementation in 1975 of CITES (the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species). This global agreement helps ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.

Over the years, Canadian Museum of Nature curators and scientists have helped Canadian border officials enforce CITES by identifying plant and animal material that fall under the CITES legislation.

Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature


The Arctic Orangebush Lichen (Seirophora aurantiaca) was added to the Red List in 2020 based on research from museum botanists Dr. Troy McMullin and Paul Sokoloff. They used specimens from the National Herbarium of Canada and new collections made on the 2017 Canada C3 expedition.

The IUCN also publishes the Red List, an annual publication that documents plants and animals that are facing a higher risk of global extinction. Assessments for the Red List include data from numerous sources, including those from the Canadian Museum of Nature, which document species distributions through their collections. 

As host of the CC-IUCN Secretariat, the museum coordinates the group’s meetings, manages its web site, and ensures the 150 or so delegates, including like-minded representatives from Canadian NGO’s, government agencies and others, are kept informed on initiatives that can support the IUCN’s international mandate. 

The Chair of the Canadian Committee for the IUCN attends the World Congress in an official capacity. Parks Canada is the State Member for Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature is a Government Agency Member of IUCN. “We host the CC-IUCN’s regional forum, through which all delegates can consult and comment on policies on issues such as species at risk and conservation,” explains Beckel. “Delegates can then feed into the broader discussions that can inform Canada’s presence at the World Congress.”