A vision for 2050: evidence-based conservation

Conservation is getting ever more attention – governments are realising that they need to act, scientists are learning more, and millions of people worldwide are part of conservation charities. In fact the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties.

Yet biodiversity is still lost at an alarming rate, which is followed by a decline in the benefits biodiversity provides for us. There are lots of pressures responsible for these declines – climate change, pollution, expansion of agricultural land, overfishing, unsustainable logging…

Mike Rands from the University of Cambridge joined with experts from conservation organisations and from various departments at the university to take a holistic view of the challenges that conservation faces.

They identified some key gaps in our knowledge. We know little of the diversity of microbes, invertebrates and many groups of plants. We know less about the tropics than about temperate regions. Our knowledge of genetic diversity, as opposed to species diversity, is lacking. We don’t know enough about how different parts of the ecosystem interact, or about ecosystem management.

So how do we tackle the decline of biodiversity? The authors highlight the need to link science to economics, to empower developing nations to protect biodiversity, and to turn scientific knowledge into policy. Our approach to conservation has changed over time and we need to identify and build upon what works.

2010 is international year of biodiversity, and the Convention Biological Diversity is to be held this month in Japan. Here governments are expected to adopt a vision for 2050 and set biodiversity targets to be achieved by 2020. www.cbd.int

In advance of this meeting, Rands and colleagues have put forward three necessities for halting biodiversity loss:

  1. Manage biodiversity as a public good

The people who suffer the consequences of biodiversity loss are often not the ones who caused it. So biodiversity must be seen as a global good, and protection needs to be achieved through collective choices. An understanding of the economic value of biodiversity will help develop a strategy to manage it. Incentives and regulations are then needed to change behaviour.

2.   Integrate biodiversity into public and private decision-making

Social, economic and political decision-making must take biodiversity into account. Governments’ concern for biodiversity cannot be restricted to the environmental ministry – other departments have a role to play.

3.   Conditions are created for policy implementation.

We need to make the jump from understanding the science of biodiversity loss to actually doing something about it. Conservation works best where knowledge is combined with appropriate institutional structures and patterns of behaviour that mean we can meet targets. Actions to counteract biodiversity loss must be enabled by institutions, governance and appropriate behaviours.

2010 is the year in which society can decide to take the role of biodiversity in human wellbeing seriously, and invest in ways of conserving nature’s services for future generations.

Rands MR, Adams WM, Bennun L, Butchart SH, Clements A, Coomes D, Entwistle A, Hodge I, Kapos V, Scharlemann JP, Sutherland WJ, Vira B. (2010) Biodiversity conservation: challenges beyond 2010 Science. 329:1298-303

What do you think we can achieve this year?

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About Rebecca Nesbit

I studied for my PhD with the University of York and spent my time chasing migrant butterflies. I have trained bees to detect explosives, written a novel, organised Biology Week for the Society of Biology and visited universities round the world with Nobel Laureates. I am collecting friends to help me save the world. My website is: http://rebeccanesbit.com/
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