Biodiversity targets to slow loss by 2020

Delegates from nearly 200 countries met for two weeks in Nagoya, Japan, in late October 2010 to work out a set of 20 targets for 2020 that aim to slow the rate of plant and animal extinctions around the world. The targets are an ambitious effort to overcome the failure of world governments’ earlier pledge to “significantly reduce” biodiversity loss by 2010.

Charles Perrings: The 2020 target was a very generalized assertion that we wished to reduce the rate at which we were driving species to extinction. The 2020 targets – and there are 20 of them – are designed to identify drivers behind biodiversity loss, to identify what may be achieved, and the actions that are needed in order to achieve targets.

Environmental economist Charles Perrings, of Arizona State University is the lead author of a paper published before the meeting that evaluated the proposed targets – including ending overfishing and managing food production to conserve biodiversity. EarthSky asked Perrings how these goals could avoid another failure.

Charles Perrings: One way is to make sure that the targets that are established are more realistic but secondly, to make sure that realistic targets are implemented through a plan of action that member states agree.

Perrings said adopting these targets means creating an international strategy on how to save plant and animal species. An October 2010 study revealed that one-fifth of mammals, birds, and amphibians are under threat of extinction.

The targets were negotiated at the 10th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, under the United Nations. Politicians, conservationists, and negotiators met with the knowledge that their previous efforts to reduce plant and animal extinctions have failed.

Charles Perrings: The rate of species decline is increasing, not reducing. And it’s across the board. It’s not just the charismatic megafauna [large animals] that attract the most attention – but a range of species extending across the board.

The new targets follow the acronym ‘SMART’ – meaning, specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and time-bound.

Charles Perrings: We’re arguing that it’s important that they not only be SMART but they also be relevant. The targets need to speak to the real interests people have got in ecosystem services and the biodiversity that’s needed to support these services. The targets need to recognize trade-offs between interests.

For example, Perrings said, one of the targets states, “Areas under agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.” He pointed out that the primary interests of food production and forestry are to feed and shelter people. Those basic human needs will likely overshadow the intent of conserving biodiversity.

Charles Perrings: It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how efficient we make agriculture, it’s almost certain that an expanding human population is going to involve further loss of habitat for other species. We claim that the trade-off should be addressed directly.

He said that in contrast to the 2010 target, it’s important that 2020’s targets are achievable, and that they go along with a set of indicators that can measure the progress towards success. But due to the trade offs, Perrings writes in the paper, “It may not be possible to meet all of the 2020 targets.”

Perrings added that although it’s a worthy goal to save species for the sake of saving species, he believes the most effective approach to reducing biodiversity loss is focusing on why nature matters to humans.

Charles Perrings: We think that it’s important ask first of all, what is it that species are doing to provide either for current needs or future needs of people, and then to ask, what do we need to do to get the best possible balance between the things we’re asking species to do for us?

November 1, 2010

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