Dr Sophia Hatzisavvidou is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, University of Bath.
March 3 was proclaimed as World Wildlife Day by the United Nations (UN) in 2013. The day marks an opportunity to celebrate wildlife but also raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity and conservation. Awareness raising has been a long-standing goal of global biodiversity governance, already included as an objective in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) adopted in 1973. In 2010, the world committed to an international overarching framework on biodiversity management and policy development with the adoption of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (which included the much-discussed ‘Aichi targets’). Despite these steps, the state of the Earth’s biodiversity has been declining dramatically. A UN report published in May 2019 found not only that nature’s decline is unprecedented in human history and that species extinction is accelerating, but also that the current global response is insufficient.
Despite this lack of effectiveness of adopted policies, the new Global Biodiversity Framework agreed by parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) last December at COP15 in Montreal has been heralded as a breakthrough in biodiversity conservation, protection, restoration and management. Signed by almost 200 countries, the agreement includes a global commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and to protect 30% of land and oceans by the same date (the so-called 30x30 goal). Signatory parties have also agreed to end human-induced extinctions of known threatened species.
The UK has long been seen as an environmental champion, becoming the first country in 2008 to give its emission reductions targets a legal underpinning and being one of the signatory parties of the CBD. It has instituted a robust, co-operative system to measure its biodiversity based on input from public and governmental bodies, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions. Nonetheless, the state of the country’s biodiversity leaves little space for celebration and respite. Despite the ambition of the ‘Biodiversity 2020’ Strategy introduced in 2011, and the passing of the Environment Act 2021, recent reviews of the country’s biodiversity indicators show a deterioration in a number of them, especially with regard to pressures from species invasion, condition of protected areas, and the state of pollinators and bird populations. In fact, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, having lost about half of its biodiversity.
In January 2023, the UK Government announced the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 which outlines its strategy for implementing the UK’s 30x30 CBD commitments and includes the launch of a Species Survival Fund, pledging £3 billion to protect and restore nature. But critics were quick to point out that although, on paper, DEFRA seems to have raised to the challenge, a plan alone is inadequate to provide the pace and force of action required. As Beccy Speight, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) notes, ‘protected areas must be more than lines on a map’.
Several factors have contributed to the deterioration of the state of biodiversity in the UK and globally. Research has shown that despite the seemingly complementary fashion in which climate change and biodiversity loss can be addressed through reforestation, in reality climate goals can be in conflict with biodiversity goals and land-based negative emissions policies can contribute to species loss. Equally problematic, researchers point out that nature valuations monetise and instrumentalise nature, depriving it of its intrinsic value, and can lead to land grabbing and further enclosures of public natural spaces. In the UK, the 2021 Dasgupta review, a comprehensive assessment on the economics of biodiversity commissioned by the UK government, was criticised for reducing nature to an ‘asset’ and failing to persuasively make the case for the link between nature financialisation and protection. Finally, an additional challenge relates to the integration of justice principles in biodiversity governance. Whereas in the case of climate change governance, a lot of work has gone into linking social principles of justice with climate action, for example through the concept of ‘just transitions’, an explicit link between biodiversity and a just transition is still in the making.
What would be a way forward in terms of policy making and governance, to effectively revert the dire state of biodiversity? The 2023 theme of World Wildlife Day – ‘partnerships for wildlife conservation’ – succinctly illustrates the need to work across sectors (public, private, civil society) to achieve a more positive outcome in biodiversity governance. The framework of Nature-based Solutions (NBS) offers a potential way to implement policies that address simultaneously climate change and biodiversity loss while improving human health and societal well-being. Scholars also point to the need to consider justice through a multispecies lens, recognising the close everyday links between humans and more-than-humans. Even if this currently sounds like a very distant possibility, the just transitions concept can offer a valuable framework through which biodiversity governance can be designed and implemented. This would allow for attention to focus on local experiences, relationships, and particularities, affording a more inclusive and integrative governmental approach.
The public is increasingly aware of the need to urgently act on the ecological emergency. Climate Assembly UK concluded that they ‘strongly support measures that have a positive impact on biodiversity and wildlife, whilst also helping the UK move towards its net zero goal’. It is time that policy makers raise up to the challenge, not simply by celebrating nature, but by actively protecting and restoring it.
All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.