Halting, then reversing the ongoing loss of Earth’s plant and animal diversity requires far more than an expanded global system of protected areas of land and seas, scientists warn. What is needed, is successful, coordinated action across a diverse, interconnected set of transformative changes, including massive reductions in harmful agricultural and fishing subsidies, deep reductions in overconsumption, and holding climate change to 1.5°C.

More than 50 scientists from 23 countries delivered to governments a synthesis of the science informing and underpinning 21 targets proposed in the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) being negotiated under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and scheduled for adoption later this year at a world biodiversity summit in China.

The analysis was coordinated by bioDISCOVERY, a program of the Future Earth organization, and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) and included two scientists from the IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program. 

“The target of protecting 30% of all land and seas is important and attracting a lot of attention. Expanding protected areas is a good start if done well, but falls far short of what's needed to halt and reverse biodiversity loss — called ‘bending the curve’ for biodiversity’. There’s very good evidence that we will fail again to meet ambitious international biodiversity objectives if there’s too much focus on protected areas at the expense of other urgent actions addressing the threats to biodiversity,” says Paul Leadley, an assessment leader and Professor at Paris-Saclay University, France. “Governments are clearly struggling with the breadth and depth of the ‘transformative changes’ needed to bend the curve for biodiversity, and sometimes seem unwilling to face up to it, but deep changes are necessary and will greatly benefit people in the long run.”

This is clearly illustrated in an article from senior IIASA researcher David Leclere  ̶  one of the authors of the draft framework  ̶  published in Nature in 2020 on pathways to achieve ambitious biodiversity targets, and echoed by other articles that fed into the report.

"The implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity strategy at national and sub-national level must clearly be multi-sectorial and involve a very broad spectrum of public and private entities,” notes coauthor Piero Visconti, who leads the Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group at IIASA. “Every institution will have an important role to play to mitigate threats to biodiversity and promote its recovery. A key aspect of transformative change will be to integrate ecological knowledge and conservation objectives in land- and water-use planning decisions; thriving ecosystems require sustainable management decisions beyond protected areas."

Among the group’s key conclusions and recommendations are the following:

  • Success requires transformative change. Past experience in slowing and reversing biodiversity loss as well as scenarios of future biodiversity change show that only a comprehensive portfolio of interrelated actions will significantly reduce direct threats to biodiversity from land and sea use change, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. None of the GBF targets that address these direct threats to biodiversity will alone contribute more than 15% of what is needed to reach the world’s ultimate goals for ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity. 
  • Action must be coordinated at every scale, with progress assessed frequently. The degree of biodiversity change, and the relative importance of drivers, vary greatly across scales and from place to place, and drivers in one place can affect biodiversity in other places far away (“telecoupling,” through, for example, global trade, climate change, etc). Success will require action coordinated across local, national, and international levels, in natural and managed ecosystems, and across intact and ‘working’ lands and seas. Success will also require upgrading monitoring capability and regular assessment of progress to make sure actions are delivering the intended outcomes at all levels.
  • Substantial investment in better monitoring is needed to guide effective action. There are massive gaps in biodiversity monitoring. Most of the nearly 1 billion existing non-marine biodiversity-related records were collected in developed countries and within 2.5 km of roads, and less than 7% of the globe is sampled. Two key improvements are needed: a) a global monitoring system for biodiversity with the ability to attribute biodiversity change to specific drivers, and to integrate data from relevant threat sectors (e.g., agriculture, trade, climate); and b) a predictive capacity to anticipate future trends, to inform decision-making.
  • Act now, and sustain it to ensure recovery. Given that the time lags between action and outcomes are often measured in decades, especially in such areas as restoration of forests, coral reefs and fisheries, it is imperative to act now to avoid irreversible loss and put biodiversity on a pathway to recovery by mid-century.

“The sooner we act the better. Time lags between action and positive outcomes for biodiversity can take decades, so we must act immediately and sustain our efforts if we are to reach the global goals by 2050. The time needed for safeguarding and restoring ecosystem structure, function, and resilience is particularly critical for people and communities whose livelihoods and well-being directly depend on these systems and the benefits they provide,” concludes coauthor Maria Cecilia Londoño Murcia of the Humboldt Institute, Colombia. 

Adapted from a press release by the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON).

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