A biodiversity-crisis hierarchy to evaluate and refine conservation indicators

Published in Ecology & Evolution
A biodiversity-crisis hierarchy to evaluate and refine conservation indicators

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How often does your jaw drop when you notice the latest news report?  More often than I would wish, I read about some blatantly outrageous act of environmental vandalism, be that one person illegally clearing their land, or global corporations buying off politicians to destroy effective environmental policy. Biodiversity loses out again and again; the indicators for change in biodiversity show consistent, alarming downwards trends.

 And it's usually at this point in my thinking that the gears start to grate inside my head because there is a painful mismatch between what we see going on in everyday news reports and what society and governments do to conserve biodiversity.  Our threatened species recovery plans don't include a subsection "stop dodgy deals between real-estate agents and local councils to prevent habitat loss".  There is no clause in the endangered species act that says "government shouldn't subsidise the forest logging industry because it hands the industry too much power, making reforms to protect critical habitat difficult".  When I hear the news reporter extolling the virtues of the latest growth in GDP, in population, in exports and imports, I can’t help thinking that something has gone catastrophically wrong with how we are going about the business of conserving our biodiversity.

 Deeply underlying this paper are decades of jaw-dropping news reports and the non-sequitur of environmental rhetoric by governments and corporations compared with environmental outcomes.  However, more directly, this paper emerged from a workshop in early 2016 when we sat down to consider the idea of planetary boundaries for biodiversity. This rather narrow scope expanded quickly into considering the broader, and more important suite of indicators used for monitoring progress towards Aichi Targets.  Most of us had not previously engaged with the Aichi targets.  We saw this as a strength of our team: we could bring the fresh perspective of field-focussed conservation biologists to the well-developed area of CBD targets and indicators. With expert input from two of our collaborators (Emily Nicholson and Lucie Bland) we felt our team had enough knowledge and fresh ideas to make a substantial contribution.

 We resisted the temptation to expand further to analyse the Sustainable Development Goals because the SDGs have even less coverage of threats to biodiversity than represented by the Aichi Targets. The SDGs also include conflicting goals where "sustainable development" would not be sustainable from a biodiversity conservation perspective, such as road building.  Nevertheless, in maturing the SDGs over coming years, we expect that applying the biodiversity-crisis hierarchy will help ensure major gaps in the goals are closed and conflicts reconciled.

 In our paper we evaluate the coverage of Aichi indicators against a biodiversity-crisis hierarchy; a conceptual model of the interlinked processes that drive biodiversity loss.  To help explain these concepts more clearly, we prepared a short video.  Through making this, we considered a broader audience than the Parties to the Conference of the next Convention for Biological Diversity.  We realized that the biodiversity-crisis hierarchy has much broader application, with the potential to guide development of government policy for managing threats, as well as the individual choices that people make in conducting their every-day lives.

 Scientists have warned that human society is willfully heading into a future of increased human suffering associated with nature annihilation.  Over 20,000 scientists have signed or endorsed the scientist's warning to humanity (scientists.forestry.oregonstate.edu) to raise the alarm. Applying our extinction-crisis hierarchy to policy development is one way to take action in response to this warning.  We hope our ideas help to break the taboos and evict the elephants from the room to allow open conversations, policy development and choices to tackle the full range of processes that currently are driving our planet into the sixth mass extinction.

The paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution is here: https://go.nature.com/2DYm71G

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