We need to be working towards net-zero wildlife loss ©quapan/Flickr CC BY 2.0

More ambitious targets needed to prevent the destruction of nature

Not a single target set by governments to preserve biodiversity over the last decade has been met, so scientists are recommending a new approach to setting goals.

They are suggesting that policy makers and negotiators put in place a series of 'safety nets' which will hopefully prevent the next set of goals from failing. 

When the world's governments met ten years ago in Aichi, Japan, they all agreed to a number of targets that would help to prevent the destruction of nature, stop the extinction of species and to protect the environment.

These goals were put in place for every nation to work on over the following decade. But time has run out and not a single one of these goals, which included actions such a reducing the direct pressures on the natural world and enhancing the benefits that we gain from it, have been met.

The world is still pulling an unsustainable amount of fish out of the oceans, pollution is still causing untold damage to some of the planet's most sensitive habitats and the climate crisis is continuing to gather pace.

Now, as nations prepare for the next Convention on Biological Diversity, which will aim to set out new goals for the world to try to achieve by 2030, a team of international researchers have developed a series of recommendations on how best to approach the situation.  

Prof Andy Purvis is a researcher at the Museum who has helped to author this new set of recommendations, which have been published in the journal Science.

'The wellbeing of future generations depends on saving nature now, but that will be impossible if the targets are too narrow or set too low,' says Andy.

'A single focus on any one part of biodiversity basically guarantees that things will continue to get worse, but a safety net could secure the future of habitats, species, genetic diversity and the benefits we get from all these. It would even help in the fight against climate change.'

A n orange hulled fishing boat heads towards the camera, with a town of white houses visible in the distance.

Fisheries can be maintained sustainably, the policies just need to be enforced and acted upon ©Mark AC Photos/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Preventing the loss of nature

The world is facing a planetary crisis. Average global temperatures are continuing to climb, habitats are being destroyed as industry expands and even some of the most remote places on Earth are nevertheless starting to suffer from humanity's actions.

But all is not lost.

People and governments have shown in the past that we can come together to help solve these enormous environmental problems, from closing the hole in the ozone layer to enacting a global ban on the hunting of whales.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty that was set up in 1992 with three goals: the conservation of global biodiversity, the sustainable use of nature and the fair and equitable sharing of the any benefits deriving from genetic science.

Since then, nations have met on a regular basis to set targets that work towards these goals. These have included, for example, maintaining the genetic diversity of species, increasing awareness of the loss of wildlife that the world is facing and implementing sustainable fishing practices. 

A view over the tar sands of canada showing the barren earth crossed with roads and littered with muddy ponds, as the setting sun casts a red light over the landscape.

As industry expands our impact on the natural world is becoming ever greater ©thekirbster/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Over the last ten years however, despite some progress, nations have failed to achieve any of the 20 goals agreed upon by policymakers, scientists and government negotiators when they met in 2010.

Now, the world's nations are preparing to meet again to hash out a new set of goals to take us through to 2030. In the run up to this, Andy and his colleagues suggest that a new approach is needed in order to help guarantee their success, and have set out a series of recommendations.

An interconnected approach

The researchers argue that we need to put in place a series of interlinked and ambitious goals. This would mean that each target would unpin the others, and so in effect create a form of 'safety net' that would help prevent any individual goal from failing.

To effectively set targets, they have made three crucial recommendations.

The first is that any single overarching target, such as 'keeping the global temperature to 2°C below pre-industrial levels', is unlikely to succeed. There is no one size fits all for the problems that are currently needing to be solved, so focusing on just a single aspect like species extinction or habitat destruction is risky. Instead they suggest that each individual aspect needs its own target.

This feeds into the second point. This is that that all aspects of nature are interlinked, and so each goal must be looked at not on an individual basis but on one that encompasses them all and allows each goal to support the next.

Finally, nations need to be more ambitious with their goals. Each interconnecting goal needs to be as ambitious as the next if we stand any chance of reversing the decline of the natural world by 2050. Unless we aim high, they argue, the targets are likely to be missed.  

The tail of a humpback whale is sticking out of the blue water, with a city scape in the background.

We have shown in the past that governments can come together and protect the environment, such as the global ban on whaling ©Steve Austin/Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

'Although the ambitious global biodiversity targets that have been pursued over the last decade have not been met, we do have good foundations to build upon,' says Prof Philip McGowan, from Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and a coauthor of the study.

'For example, for species, we know extinction rates would have been between two and four times higher without the conservation action that has taken place.

'What we need now, is to aim high for holistic and joined up action, looking beyond emergency action so that we can ensure that the world’s ecosystems have all of their species at natural levels of abundance so that they can fulfil all of their roles in safeguarding life on our planet.'

The paper provides a scientific basis for how ambitious different goals will be, arguing that we need to be aiming for no net loss of species or ecosystems, for example.

They hope that by providing these details, and science to back up all the points, they will help negotiators at the next Convention on Biological Diversity make better and more informed goals that will crucially be more likely to succeed.