Nature conservation (not biodiversity) for the 21st century


I attended an open dialogue in Geneva today on Nature Conservation for the 21st Century hosted by the Swiss and Geneva governments and organized by the Geneva Environmental Network. The Panel raised a couple of interesting ideas during the Q and A.

On “biodiversity” – this is a technocratic term created by policy makers. Whilst bringing some advantages in terms of supporting governance, it is a term that has alienated the public as they have little understanding of the term. Framing it as “nature conservation” may be more tangible and inclusive.

On sustainable use (SU): there is an imbalance between SU and protectionist approaches to protecting biodiversity. This is illustrated in the insufficient funding for SU. For example the IPBESĀ report planned to be on SU was not funded. As another example, SU is the third pillar of the Convention on Biodiversity but there is very little attention paid to it, with most focus on the first pillar (landscape protection) and second pillar (Access to Benefit Sharing).

Future conservation in Africa: If things go well, given the competition of land, Africa will at best look like a garden or big farm. We will need to become better gardeners to protect species, to redefine SU to manage coasts and landscapes.

Biodiversity and business: many companies do not view biodiversity as “material” to their business. Material issues are typical the health of employees, costs of waste and CO2 emission. These issues are material” because they pose risks to employees and companies’ bottom line. Some companies do see biodiversity as directly material e.g. Kering/Gucci who invested in sustainable sourcing of snake skins (in partnership with ITC). Many however see it as indirect, which means that there are still risks and opportunities to manage. One tool for this is the Natural Capital Protocol.

The threat of climate change: Representing BD with pictures of dolphins and elephants potentially trivializes BD ie misses the bigger picture with respect to climate change. Its impacts on BD will be devastating. We need clarity about what we are trying to achieve at the right scale.

A new unifying vision is needed for nature conservation with three guiding principles:

  1. We have to decarbonize the economy
  2. We have to maintain a healthy biosphere of which BD is a foundation. Less focus on BD itself and more on the biosphere.
  3. Much stronger focus on equity, otherwise development is not sustainable in human terms.
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