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Julia Marton-Lefèvre

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director-General, The World Conservation Union (IUCN)

The daughter of Hungarian political refugees, Julia Marton-Lefèvre grew up in the United States and lived most of her adult life in France, where she raised two sons, both of whom now work in the public sector. A long-time Executive Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU), based in Paris, she later became Executive Director of LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development) International. In May 2005 she took over as rector of the University for Peace, established by a UN General Assembly resolution in 1980. UPEACE has its headquarters campus in Costa Rica.


Building a dialogue on environmental security and development

The themes of development and security have long been intertwined but specialists from the two groups have rarely talked. The World Conservation Union's new Director-General wants to change all that.

Q: Why are you making peace and security a major theme of your first four years as Director-General of IUCN, which is after all an environmental conservation organization?

A: During my time at the International Council for Scientific Unions (ICSU) in Paris I made a great effort to get the scientists to talk to the sociologists about how to think about and implement sustainable development. From my work in Thailand as a member of the US Peace Corps I had seen the impact development could have on a fragile country. It also seemed clear to me that environmental conservation and security were closely related. For example, how can you talk just about providing clean water for women in a village if they are afraid to go out and collect the water because they risk being raped by militia who want to control the region's resources?

When I was headhunted to become rector of the University for Peace in Costa Rica from May 2005 I saw the job as a wonderful opportunity not just in itself but also a chance to get to know about security issues. But I realized that the sustainable development groups and the security specialists seem hardly to communicate with each other.

Q: How can we close this gap between these two groups, both of which are important in the Geneva region?

A: On several occasions in the past, IUCN has been able to provide a very useful platform for dialogue that goes beyond simple conservation issues: on dams, on development and on biodiversity, for instance. I feel we should make use of this global platform to find ways of living together that promise more security to everyone in the community.

IUCN has been a platform for development dialogues that go beyond simple conservation.

In fact, I think the conservation movement can be a very effective peace-keeping tool. I remember being told by someone in the Middle East that if would be very difficult to start a dialogue between opposing sides there if all we talk about is peace, because each side has a different idea about what is required for peace. But it is possible to unite everyone around the idea of the environment and its conservation, she told me. If you can get someone to sit down and talk to you about, say, managing a lake's resources in the fairest way, the two of you may end up providing each other with a measure of security even if you do not become friends.

Q: Is the environment a good place to start because so many conflicts seem to be over environmental resources?

A: I am not saying all conflicts are environmentally based, but they often develop into struggles over environmental resources. Conflict is not only between countries. It starts in families, in communities. IUCN is already exploring ways to deal with conflicts over resources - through its co-management initiatives at the local level, through management efforts at the ecosystem level, and peace parks across frontiers with WWF-International, the South African Peace Parks Foundation and the University for Peace. But I think IUCN can become an even more important platform for action to provide security and peace, and the Geneva region is an ideal place to start this initiative because so many of the humanitarian organizations have their headquarters here.