Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Cuba Conference: Aiming For a New Model of Sustainable and Equitable Development

Posted in Travelogue on July 29, 2015 by Brian Boom

Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., is Vice President for Conservation Strategy, Director of NYBG Press and Science Outreach, and Bassett Maguire Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. The flora of Cuba is one of his research specialties.

The title of this post reflects the overarching theme of an international conference on the environment and development that was held recently in Havana, Cuba. I attended as a delegate from The New York Botanical Garden, making a presentation on novel methods to accelerate the conservation assessment of plant species so that plants can figure more centrally in the designation of new Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). I will write about these methods and KBAs later. For now, I wanted to report on the palpable energy and enthusiasm, both in tone and substance, for the diverse topics and perspectives on display in Havana during the week.


This conference played out against the backdrop of a new era in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S., with a great many new implications for development and the environment in Cuba. The conference’s highlighting of development as a process that should be sustainable and equitable refers to the need for development to be fair for both developed and less developed nations. Hundreds of delegates from some two dozen countries made presentations and engaged in debates on more than a dozen themes such as protected natural areas, biodiversity and management of ecosystems, environmental justice, environmental education, natural history museums, and climate change. The Spanish program of the conference and the abstracts of presentations can be accessed here.

One of the most important outputs from the conference was the distribution of the latest report from the Cuban government on the country’s progress to date, and plans for the next five years, related to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The report, in Spanish and titled V Informe Nacional al Convenio Sobre la Diversidad Biológica, can be accessed here.

Most impressive to me was the news that 72 percent of Cuba’s 6,000-plus plant species had been assessed for their conservation status as of 2013, compared to 44.6 percent in 2009, a remarkable accomplishment. Furthermore, of those species assessed, 47 percent were found to be threatened to some degree, which reinforces the global importance and endangerment of Cuba’s biodiversity. There is no better testimony to Cuba’s enlightened and sustained engagement with the CBD’s mandates than this report.