Scientists urge that a clear, unambiguous goal for preventing human-induced species extinctions and stabilising populations must be front and centre in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
Next year, governments of the world will come together to adopt the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Much like the Paris Agreement, with its clear statement on limiting carbon emissions, this framework will establish a set of goals and targets for conserving the diversity of life on Earth.
However, scientists comprising a team of international collaborators from Newcastle University, UK, University of Queensland, Australia (UQ), BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and RSPB (among others) warn that early drafts of this framework do not go far enough to trigger the actions needed to address the alarming decline of species around the world.
Publishing their findings in the journal Conservation Letters, the scientists argue that the way the draft goal for conserving species has been worded, it could be achieved by allowing some species to go extinct.
Professor Philip McGowan, Dr Rike Bolam and Dr Louise Mair of Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, all contributed to the study, which emphasises the importance of taking decisive action for biodiversity from 2020 to enable us to be ‘on path to recovery by 2030’ and ‘living in harmony with nature’ by 2050. These are the agreed aspirations of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has been signed by 195 countries, and the European Union.
Professor McGowan, who leads an IUCN Species Survival Commission Task Force that provides scientific input into current negotiations on a new set of intergovernmental commitments on biodiversity and who is Professor of Conservation Science and Policy at Newcastle University, said: “In 2010, the world’s governments (accepting that the US is not a signatory to this convention) set out to halting species extinctions and reverse declines of the most threatened species by 2020, and whilst this has not been achieved, there are increasing signs that it is indeed achievable.
“An ambitious and well written Goal for species will be the guiding light that is critical to ensuring that the progress made over the last decade is now turned into long lasting action that will sustain species for our benefit, and for future generations.”
Professor Richard Gregory, Head of Monitoring Conservation Science at the RSPB, added “Species represent the most tangible and compelling part of biodiversity we see around us and that connect to our lives. The loss of species populations, whether common or rare, is bad for nature and bad for people. We need a bright star of ambition to be set for biodiversity next year and our paper defines a ‘SMART’ target for species.”
Professor James Watson from UQ and the Wildlife Conservation Society, added: “The evidence is very clear. We are facing a global extinction crisis, and what nations put in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is a line in the sand moment.
“Quite simply, the framework, and nations that sign up to it, must make an unambiguous commitment to preventing all future human-driven species extinctions. As it stands currently, the goal being put forward is a backwards step from what countries committed to achieving in 2010.”
UQ PhD student Brooke Williams, who led this study examining the key elements of a goal for conserving species post-2020, said that a robust goal for species requires several key ingredients.
She said: “We propose a revised wording for a species-focused goal in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that is ambitious, unambiguous, can be readily communicated, and comprises quantifiable elements against which nations can easily measure their progress. Crucially, the goal we propose in our new study strips away the potential for perverse outcomes, like species being allowed to go extinct or become more threatened. In early drafts, both of these outcomes could eventuate, and be entirely consistent with the goal for species being achieved – clearly, this is an unsatisfactory response to the global biodiversity crisis.”
Not an insurmountable challenge
BirdLife International’s Dr Stuart Butchart, who collaborated on the study, highlights that stopping species declines, and ultimately recovering populations, is not an insurmountable challenge.
“A substantial body of evidence reveals that conservation actions, when well-planned, adequately resourced and effectively implemented, can stop species from going extinct, slow the rate at which species are driven toward extinction, and halt and reverse population declines, emphasising the feasibility of meeting an ambitious goal for species if we can get the wording right” said Dr Butchart.
“We have the means to stop extinctions, and now we need the political will and resources.”
The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is a stepping-stone towards achieving the CBD’s 2050 Vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’. It will replace the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which failed demonstrably to prevent declines in species populations and human-induced species extinctions.
Reference: Williams BA, Watson JE, Butchart SHM, Ward M, Brooks TM, Butt N, Bolam FC, Stuart SN, Mair L, McGowan PJK, Gregory R, Hilton-Taylor C, Mallon D, Harrison I, Simmonds JS. 2020. A robust goal is needed for species in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Conservation Letters. e12778. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12778