Conservation Visions for the 2020s

In January 2020, the Resilience Thematic Group of the Commission on Ecosystem Management, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, conducted a short exercise. A recent article in the Guardian surveyed a variety of conservation leaders about their concerns, reflections on the past decade, and vision for the coming decade, specifically:

  1. What habitat or species are you most concerned about?
  2. What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?
  3. What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

The simplicity and power of the approach inspired the RTG’s core group. The group then invited members to provide brief responses to same three questions as a way to hear each other’s voices and build relationships within the thematic group. This post, originally circulated as a PDF to the membership, provides the fifteen responses submitted by members.

List of Contributing Members

1. Mike Jones   2. Alice Hughes   3. Pierre Iachetti   4. Lara Hansen   5. Edmund Barrow   6. Rosa Ortiz Quijano   7. Michael Murphree   8. Marina Rosales Benites de Franco   9. Robert Ddamulira   10. Margarita Arianoutsou   11. Scott Slocombe   12. Arlene Hopkins   13. Patrick Jasper   14. Barbara Heinzen   15. Dorian Fougères (author of this blog)

 

1.   Mike Jones, Chair, Resilience Thematic Group, and Swedish Biodiversity Centre

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Soil. Soil is the foundation of all higher forms of life on land, the foundation of civilization and contains around 25% of all biodiversity. It is being eroded at a much faster rate than it is being replenished and the FAO soil report of 2015 suggests that there will be serious soil deficiencies in most parts of the world within the next 60 years.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Regenerative agriculture in its various forms as a way of sequestering atmospheric C, reducing the use of toxic inputs and improving crop production. A close second is the inability of central governments to recognise and address the systemic issues that inhibit ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Regenerative agriculture as being practiced by growing numbers of farmers around the world. In addition to the potential for feeding people while sequestering atmospheric C, it has the potential for the adaptation of food production systems in response to climate change and the potential to reduce pressure on protected areas. Transformation and resilience in one bundle that IUCN could usefully promote as part of NbS.

2.   Alice Hughes, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

It’s time to move past single species level prioritization wherever possible, as we always focus on a limited subset of species which are poor indicators of biodiversity or endemism patterns. Ecosystem level conservation has to be the priority. With the development of the Redlist of Ecosystems, one type of ecosystem has stood out as one of the greatest challenges, yet like the Pangolin (the most world’s trafficked mammal which is still almost unknown outside Asia) one of the worlds most vulnerable ecosystem types is also invisible yet in plain sight-limestone karsts. Limestone karsts are hugely abundant (around 20% of terrestrial ecosystems are limestone, yet limestone karsts have extraordinary endemism, which means each represents a unique ecosystem). Karsts are some of the most neglected ecosystems, with for example an estimated 90% of cave invertebrates in China undescribed, and other karst dependent taxa (geckos, fish, various mammals, be

20200215_141411
Toiyabe Range, Nevada, USA

gonia, orchids, urticeae, gesneriads) likely showing similar patterns. Yet they are also some of the most threatened, with a 5.7% loss annually, and as an under-protected ecosystem this leaves these unique ecosystems at risk from development.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

In a decade of biodiversity we have made remarkably little progress towards almost any of the Aichi targets, and with no critical analysis of factors behind this failure the post-2020 Biodiversity framework is likely to be an even greater failure. Global deforestation rates continue to increase, wildlife trade shows no reduction, and with no mechanisms to enforce conventions it still seems we have neither the right targets or the right mechanisms to fulfill important biodiversity goals in the past, or future.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

The mainstreaming of biodiversity, I think we are finally gaining traction with popularizing and democratizing at least elements of biodiversity, and if honed sensibly this could assist in the development of more effective conservation policies and management at all levels.

3.   Pierre Iachetti, Resilience Environmental Solutions, University of Victoria

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

I am concerned about all habitats and species. I am concerned in particular about ecosystems that are at tipping points due to climate change and other impacts. For example, I am concerned about Canada’s boreal forests which are turning into a carbon source and no longer a sink as well as the frequency on extreme catastrophic fires. I am concerned about the oceans, over-fishing, and coral dying off. I’m concerned about habitat conversion of the Amazon.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Failing to meaningfully engage with Indigenous peoples and people of colour in protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change. In my experience, conserving biodiversity and climate change work has largely been a white, urban, middle and upper class pursuit. In Canada, there has been a massive failure in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and allowing self-determination. Decision makers, politicians, corporate leaders, and others speak of reconciliation and respecting Indigenous rights but their actions have not matched their words over the last ten years. In my work over the last ten years, I have largely been one of a very few people of colour involved in biodiversity conservation. Engaging people of colour has been a massive failure (in North America).

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

I am most excited that young people are taking leadership roles and becoming more active in conservation work. I am excited by new ideas in conservation financing that involve Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Indigenous peoples. I am excited that Indigenous peoples are taking leadership roles in conservation.

4.   Lara Hansen, EcoAdapt

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Any habitat that is impacted by the concurrent threats of climate change and any other anthropogenic stress.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Failing to get have climate formally considered in all decision making (land use, regulatory, conservation) in order to make durable long-term decisions.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Any climate informed management (forests, marine, grasslands) where climate vulnerabilities are concerned, especially if adjacent land use planning is also including climate considerations for mitigation and adaptation.

5.   Edmund Barrow, Consultant, Community-based Conservation

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Drylands and natural forests.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Not building on the vast repository of local and indigenous knowledge, and institutions, in our work and being too research and “science” driven – there needs to be balance – build on local knowledge and help validate with science and experts.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Integrated landscape management (ILM) which integrates and manages the trade-offs between conservation and “productive” land use (e.g. agriculture, livestock). Such ILM is a social construct (knowledge, institutions) and has to be people driven but can be supported by expert knowledge and science.

6.   Rosa Ortiz Quijano, Université de Sherbrooke

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

In terms of biodiversity richness, the rainforests and coral reefs as rainforests of the sea. In terms of function, all ecosystems (forests, wetlands and high mountain grasslands) responsible for the production regulation and quality of water as their degradation has a huge impact on the livelihoods of rural poor and urban populations.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

At the global scale the mirage that economic growth can continue by decoupling it from environmental degradation. This allows continuing with the neoliberal economic system based on increasing unlimited consumption and unsustainable production practices. The debate of the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, or root causes, is co-opted by policy formulations with little or no effect on international or national regulations or on system transformation.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

With the support of community’s knowledge, the restorations of all the degraded ecosystems and at the same time the application of effective restoration standards and certifications to avoid the large-scale tree or agricultural monoculture model.

7.   Michael Murphree, RTG Member

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Humans.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Integrating conservation into a larger social development agenda and incorporating wildlife and wildlands into formal local, national and international economic activities. Securing greater rights for local management and use of natural resources.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Transference of rights and responsibilities to sub national levels. The growing conversion of agricultural land in southern Africa to wildlife. Increased direct engagement between rural communities and private sector. The incorporation of sound environmental management into disaster risk reduction approaches. 

8.   Marina Rosales Benites de Franco, Universidad Nacional Federico Villareal

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Driest Forest, cost hills, wetlands, tropical forest, birds.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Work in ecosystems restoration; stewardship of terrestrial and marine landscapes with a formal landscape gobernanza; connect ecosystems from protected areas within and outside; enhance local gobernanza; transfer the externalities and fails of the market negatives to ecosystems; and, increase incentives and taxes for nature conservation and its contributions to people.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Nature base- solutions (NbS) and transformative change in a global sustainability pathways.

9.   Robert Ddamulira, Instructor, Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Delaware

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Forests (tropical, temperate, boreal etc).

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

The biggest missed opportunity over the last 10 years has been the lack of a concerted effort to integrate forest conservation into the global climate change response agenda. Forests offer important services but which are currently not priced nor reflected in forest and forest land use. Forests are the most cost-effective natural technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere which causes climate change. Forests do this while at the same time providing innumerable co-benefits including; species conservation, food, water, soil protection, medicines etc. Forests also hold about 3 times as much CO2 than that which is already in the atmosphere. Yet forests continue to be lost at an alarming rate especially in emerging economies; Africa alone loses over 3.5 million hectares.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Carbon as a currency for forest conservation is exciting for me. As the world finally comes to an understanding that our climate change response is not commensurate with the challenge climate change poses – there will be no way but to fully realize and aggressively establish global, national and regional mechanisms that will pay for forest conservation using their carbon as a currency and unleashing the innumerable co-benefits forests provide.

10. Margarita Arianoutsou, Department of Ecology and Systematics, Faculty of Biology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Mediterranean climate ecosystems; plants.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Organize a network of important areas for biodiversity within the mediterranean biome; minimizing the risk of large fires within the biome and protecting it from biological invasions.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Managing mediterranean biodiversity hotspots to mitigate and adapt to threats imposed by climate change. 

11. Scott Slocombe, Wilfrid Laurier University

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Boreal forests and associated species.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Land management and conservation, as we have focused so much on water, marine and climate-change issues in the last decade (at least from a Canadian perspective).

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Better linking land planning and management activities with impact assessment in a context of integrating multiple forms of knowledge. 

12. Arlene Hopkins, Arlene Hopkins & Associates

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

I am most concerned for the WEB of LIFE Embracing ALL HABITATS & SPECIES, rather than the various singularities. For innumerable reasons, and they include the simple fact that — as history as taught us — time and again — humans are limited and fallible in our knowledge and understandings, and in our attempts to intervene with nature.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Avoidance and denial of the realities of life on earth. Obviously, the urgent imperative to reengage with earth and with all life forms was missed, and that may have been one of our last remaining opportunities.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Implementation of Mindful Engagement with Nature-based Solutions (NbS) using both our best science, and integration with the wisdom traditions of place and the regeneration of authentic, place-based culture. Therefore, by such practice, to conserve, repair and regenerate the WEB of LIFE embracing Humans and All.

13. Patrick Jasper, NABARD, India

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Dry Land Ecosystems.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

India has about 108 million hectares of rainfed area which constitutes nearly 75% of the total 143 million hectares of arable land. Farmers in these areas remain vulnerable to the vagaries of Climate Change in spite of various interventions like watershed development, natural resource management by Governments and organisations like mine. Although isolated pockets of success exist, replication of successful models on a large scale has not happened.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

Conservation of natural resources including Scarce water resources in such Dry Land area remains an area of concern.

14. Barbara Heinzen, Barbets Duet – a voluntary organisation

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Here on the Hudson River, I am working to restore native species to a riparian flood plain and the higher, older shoreline. For the past eight years, we have been working to remove invasive species (Norway maple, buckthorn, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, oriental bittersweet, privet, an asian honeysuckle shrub, purple loose strife, yellow flag iris, among others) and replant with native shrubs, trees, grasses & plants. This small project on 20 acres is my most immediate and most practical responsibility.

At the same time, I have been traveling across and working in East Africa, a relationship that began about 20 years ago. In that time, I have seen a huge degradation of habitats of all kinds. Many have been hit by the urban demand for charcoal – whether taken from a swamp forest in the Nile River watershed near Tororo in Uganda, a dryland area in the Rift Valley around Baringo or from a place in Rufiji near the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. In all these places the destruction has been swift and deeply shocking. As a former chief justice from Kenya said to a colleague who had just presented our East African energy scenarios, “Development is death”. Much of the destruction I have witnessed has been driven the need for income which can be earned by serving urban market for charcoal. Habitat destruction has also taken place thanks to ideas of ‘development’ that assume the environment will always recover and forgive our damage. The growth of flower farms around Lake Naivasha is a case in point as are the numerous dams that have been or will be built on the Nile river.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

There are two big opportunities we missed. First, we ignored the energy transition to clean, renewable energy for too long, especially in Africa. Instead, we allowed large scale investments in fossil fuels, hydro power and other electricity-generating projects to capture all the attention and most of the investment capital. The needs of the poor for income and for clean affordable energy were ignored. As a result, these needs were met by expanding the charcoal trade in East Africa, along with the increasing damages that created.

Second, we still tend to assume that economics will only damage the environment, as it has done repeatedly, especially since industrialization began. We failed to look for, or create, experiments that would find ways to integrate environmental care and restoration into our economic system. There were a few efforts to, for example, a) value ecosystem services in order to make the case for better government policies; 2) create cap and trade carbon markets, like the ETS system in Europe or various voluntary markets like Plan Vivo, 3) offset damage to wetlands by creating new wetlands elsewhere or by ‘banking’ existing wetlands. While these efforts were interesting, they have so far been very limited. As societies, we continue to treat the environment as an economist’s ‘externality’ – something that can largely be ignored. We therefore failed to test new ways to put ecological care and restoration at the heart of our economic system. Rather than offering rewards to those people and institutions that do the right thing, we still prefer to punish polluters when they are caught.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

I am most excited by the work being done by smallholders and grassroots organizations in various parts of the world, whether these are livestock farmers in the British Isles, indigenous peoples organizations around the world, or middle class professionals in East Africa who own small parcels of land. People are trying many different ways to improve their livelihoods and local decision-making while also improving the ecological health of their own environments. Along the way, they are gathering many useful lessons that are occasionally documented and published. These are the places where the most integrated efforts are being made to explore how environmental health and economic/social well-being can be integrated.

15. Dorian Fougères, RTG Vice Chair, and California Tahoe Conservancy

What habitat or species are you most concerned about?

Based on geographic extent and endemism, I remain most concerned about coral reefs. Twenty years ago, I spent seven years working on reefs in Indonesia. I studied how the labor and capital markets that link Sulawesi’s coastal zone to Hong Kong and Japan had evolved over 40 years, in step with the pervasive cyanide fishing spread throughout the archipelago by the Buginese ethnic group. These days I am disheartened every time I hear news from the villages about how livelihoods have simplified and become less stable with the disappearance of more reefs.

What is the biggest missed opportunity of the last ten years?

Adequately pricing the risks that climate change and extreme events pose to the biodiversity and social-ecological systems upon which all societies depends. This is particularly true for our water, agro-food, medical, energy, transportation, housing, and recreation systems.

What conservation work are you most excited about in the coming decade?

The ability of CEM members to proactively incite and steer social-ecological system transformations. Even in urban cores, we can and will unearth and rekindle our sacred, direct connections with land and lifeforms. We can and will change the ways that people around the world perceive, think, and act. We can and will establish equity and justice as the necessary foundations of our economy-ecologies. We can and will control the ways that global networks are and are not allowed to link local places together. We can and will foment a rapid, universal shift to gross-zero emissions and remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. We can and will reinvent business, government, and society based on resilient, circular, sustainable, and regenerative relationships.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: