Inspiration Hub

Marseille’s biodiversity and sustainability endeavours won it the IUCN World Conservation Congress

Marseille’s biodiversity and sustainability endeavours won it the IUCN World Conservation Congress

I spoke to Pascale Bigo, Manager of the Aix Marseille Provence Convention Bureau, about the epic win for the city and how it has transformed their perceptions of what the city’s natural and social assets are.

The world’s largest hybrid event, The IUCN World Conservation Congress (Congrès mondial de la natureis less than 100 days away. It will unite global thought leaders, governments, civil society, indigenous groups, scientists and business in order to address the most pressing environmental and sustainability challenges, the biodiversity and climate crises and what recovery post the COVID-19 pandemic will look like. 

This pivotal event occurs just ahead of the UN conferences on biodiversity in Kunming and climate in Glasgow. Together they will inform new global targets and action steps to take towards a sustainable, healthy future for people and nature. 

I spoke to Pascale Bigo, Manager of the Aix Marseille Provence Convention Bureau, about the epic win for the city and how it has transformed their perceptions of what the city’s natural and social assets are.  The bid opportunity landed on her desk in July 2017. It was a 50-page scoping document and she admits to never having ever seen such a comprehensive set of criteria to respond to in a bid document ever before. Competing against Marseille to host this prestigious and largest environmental gathering were the cities of Bordeaux and Lyon. Which would be best suited to host an eleven-day conference that (pre-COVID) brought up to 10 000 visitors to the event?   

Undoubtedly this was an enormous opportunity and Pascale cancelled her summer vacation. She led the focused collection of compelling sustainability data and biodiversity assets of the city to reveal a new story of what Marseille had to offer.     

Marseille is 24 000 ha in size and over 9000 of these are dedicated to natural areas. The coastline stretches across 57 kms and there is an abundance of national parks. Le Parc National  is in the middle of the city and home to a variety of plant and animal species that are unique to the region. 

This is at first glance, but going deeper into the biodiversity of the city there are 54 parks and gardens in the city that are eco garden certified (no chemical pesticides are used) and of the 128 000 trees, you find 8000 along the public roads.  

Euroméditerranée is the largest urban rehabilitation project in Europe and spans 310-hectares in the heart of Marseille. As an eco-neighborhood one would expect a high environmental performance because it is another outstanding example of the city’s commitment to regenerative development.  

To certify the energy efficiency of its buildings, Euroméditerranée has partnered with the Envirobat BDM association, which has certified all of the housing and office buildings in the block as Mediterranean Sustainable Buildings. Thanks to their design, they improve insulation (thermal regulations) by 30% to 40%. The reduction of the buildings’ energy needs is also made possible by the use of a pioneering device: the seawater heat recovery network. This innovation, via a tempered water network, makes it possible to supply the homes in the Smartseille district with hot water, heating and air conditioning while considerably reducing the waste of energy. 

In addition, users benefit from an energy coaching system in order to better manage their consumption. 

From a human capital perspective, they were also able to offer a unique solution to staffing. Marseille was the European capital of culture in 2013 and the team of volunteers active during that period will work for the IUCN congress and be able to show attendees the city’s undiscovered treasures.  From the outset the design and management of the congress represents a truly regenerative approach to the event because nature and the community around it stand to benefit. 

Marseille is committed to many environmental programmes and forward thinking plans to prioritise the management of natural resources within the shared urban environment. This together with their commitment to regenerative urban development and management of urban landscapes added up to a winning bid. She likens the IUCN congress selection to that of the Olympic games in its rigorous selection criteria. But with so many reasons to believe, and 70 letters of support for the bid from a multi stakeholder group, the decision was unanimous.  

However, it was not just the biodiversity that sealed the deal, it was also a question of legacy. What would the legacy of the congress be? Certification is vital to ensure a destination auditable track record. With this in mind the congress aims to achieve the ISO 2021 certificate with the hotels looking to gain Green Key certification. The municipality is supporting the hotels in this process by covering the costs for consulting and half of the audits. So deep are the city’s commitments to sustainability that even if it was not to have been awarded the congress, this was part of the future plans anyway.  

To offset the carbon emissions of those who attend in person there are projects to choose from that either contribute to marine or biodiversity preservation and all contributions to these projects are tax deductible. All food for the congress will be sourced from local suppliers.  

Marseille had a reputation as an edgy city with a Chicago image left over from the French Connection film in the 1950’s. Today it is a great example of how biodiversity and natural assets act as true competitive advantages for the destinations that prioritise their protection and sustainable management. By following through on its vision, it has proven to be a city able to transform itself and focus on the components of a regenerative future where its citizens and natural capital thrive.   

Explore Marseille and its successes with the GDS-Index 

More info about IUCN –  

This inclusive event, will offer both in-person and virtual participation and covers new conservation ideas, research and policy. The IUCN Members’ Assembly is the world’s largest democratic environmental decision-making platform and more than 1,400 Member organisations will take decisions that are expected to influence global conservation policy over the next decade.  

Research and innovation are also under the spotlight and Espaces Generations Nature will engage – the general public in conservation: 4-11 September 2021 




Go to Top