Bending the curve of biodiversity loss

More terrific news for the natural world.

Just published in the journal Nature, an international study led by David Leclère, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, suggests that without ambitious, integrated action combining conservation, habitat restoration and changing human food production, it won’t be possible to alter biodiversity-loss trends before 2050.

Biodiversity – the variety and abundance of species, along with the extent and quality of their home ecosystems – has been declining for many years. If current trends continue, there will simply not be enough nature left to support future generations.

The Nature study forms part of the latest World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Planet Report.

“The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” says WWF International director general Marco Lambertini.

“We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure.”

The IIASA team set out to determine whether it might be feasible to bend the curve of declining terrestrial biodiversity due, without jeopardising the chance to achieve other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

“If this were indeed possible, we also wanted to explore how to get there and more specifically, what type of actions would be required, and how combining various types of actions might reduce trade-offs among objectives and instead exploit synergies,” explains Leclère.

When looking for a mate, it may help each species to have different colors on the front, so they can find their own kind. Credit: blickwinkel/alamy stock photo
Credit: Blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo

Researchers used multiple models and newly developed scenarios to explore what might help reach biodiversity targets. To arrest trends of global decline in terrestrial biodiversity and promote recovery by 2050 or earlier, the researchers say that action is needed in the key areas of conservation and land restoration, and food system transformation.

They say that conservation and restoration efforts have to rapidly be stepped up and managed effectively. The study assumes that protected areas quickly reach 40% of global terrestrial areas, in tandem with efforts to restore degraded land (reaching about 8% of terrestrial areas by 2050).

They say that without such efforts, declines in biodiversity may only be slowed down rather than halted and any potential recovery would remain slow.

Alongside conservation and restoration efforts, researchers identify additional measures needed to address global pressures on the food system. These include reduced food waste, diets that have a lower environmental impact and further sustainable intensification and trade.

“This study shows the world may still be able to stabilise and reverse the loss of nature,” says co-author Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK.

“But to have any chance of doing that as early as 2030 we will need to make transformational changes in the way we produce and consume food as well as bolder, more ambitious conservation efforts.”

If we fail to do this and continue with business as usual, says Barrett, we’ll end up with a planet that can’t support current and future generations of people.

“Never has a ‘New Deal for Nature and People’ that halts and starts to reverse biodiversity loss been needed more,” he says.

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