2010 is the United Nation's International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). This is the year for biodiversity to be raised in the public conscience and to strengthen national and international policies to protect biodiversity. The IYB is timely as there is generally a poor understanding throughout society of the meaning and relevance of biodiversity; a 2006 survey in Britain found that when people were asked what biodiversity was, the majority thought it was a washing powder (http://www.independent.ie/farming/ah-yes-thats-a-washing-powder-98121.html).
The focus of the IYB is a ‘celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth’ (http://www.unep.org/iyb/). It is not coincidental that later this year a major review of the Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will occur in Japan. This will be the most significant event on the IYB calendar. The eyes of the world will be on decision makers – as animal conservation researchers we have the opportunity to show how we can bring science to bear in the agreements that are ratified in this meeting.
In 1988 the United Nations Environment Programme convened a Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity to explore the need for an international convention on biological diversity. Its work culminated in the drafting of the CBD, which was opened for signature in June 1992 at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ and ultimately ratified by 193 countries. The CBD is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits from utilization of genetic resources. The CBD seeks to address all notable threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including those from climate change, (1) through the provision of scientific assessments; (2) the development of tools, incentives and processes; (3) the implementation of technologies and good practices; (4) the full and active involvement of relevant governmental and non-governmental stakeholders (http://www.cbd.int/convention/about.shtml).
In 2002 the Conference of Parties (COP), the governing body of the CBD, developed a Strategic Plan to guide further implementation at national, regional and global levels. The mission statement in the Strategic Plan is to achieve, by 2010, ‘a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth’. This statement has become known as the 2010 Biodiversity Target (http://www.cbd.int/decision/cop/?id=7200).
National reports have been submitted to the CBD to evaluate the state of the biodiversity in each of the signatory countries, and it is already clear that we have failed to meet the 2010 Biodiversity Target – most, if not all, targets of signatory countries have not been met. Biodiversity is still in steep decline across the globe; a poor reflection on the global community at all scales that reflects a failure to convey the message about the value of biodiversity to our lives and to develop and implement policies to protect and restore biodiversity.
October's 10th meeting of the COP to the CBD (http://www.cbd.int/convention/cops.shtml) in Japan will see the adoption of a revised and updated Strategic Plan. The Plan will include ‘ambitious but realistic and measurable short-term targets or milestones and a long-term target or vision, developed on the basis of robust scientific evidence’ (http://www.cbd.int/sp/post2010forum). Where can animal conservation science play a role?
We need animal conservation science to be in the centre of the debate by informing the targets that are set nationally and internationally. An agreed definition of biodiversity that society can understand and that scientists can monitor would be an important starting point. Such a definition would allow globally relevant biodiversity indicators to be developed at regional and national scales that can be amalgamated and reported at global scales (Mace & Baillie, 2007; Laikre et al., 2010). Currently, only nine of the 22 biodiversity indicators outlined within the CBD framework have been fully developed with well-established methods (Walpole et al., 2009). Without such indicators in place it will not be possible to monitor and report on the consequences of policies and actions for biodiversity. The current call for the implementation of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (http://ipbes.net/en/index.asp) would allow these indicators to be discussed within a global forum that highlights opportunities to translate animal conservation science into policy at appropriate scales.
Instead of concentrating on cataloguing the demise of biodiversity, researchers must turn more directly to identifying the opportunities for assisting the persistence of biodiversity. Key opportunities do exist, such as the use of carbon markets and conservation reserve programmes (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CRP/) to protect or set aside landscapes with immediate conservation value. The cost of carbon could save many forests, and thus biodiversity, by providing an alternative profit mechanism to logging. Biodiversity could potentially be a very important beneficiary of such programs, yet we need the science to show how to incorporate biodiversity into these and similar programs if negative outcomes to biodiversity are to be avoided.
Animal conservation researchers need to be more heavily engaged in decision making. As Johns (2010) states ‘It is not enough to say how the biological world works and that we think it is good to sustain it. The point is to be heard’. We would be the first to acknowledge that we do not have all of the answers as to what is needed to be done to protect biodiversity into the future. However, this does not mean science cannot provide guidance as to the actions that can be taken. Providing ‘to the best of our knowledge’, guidelines for action that are implemented within an adaptive management framework will ensure that we learn from outcomes of management interventions and use these insights to hone and guide future actions (Walters & Holling, 1990).
This year holds important opportunities for biodiversity. Let's hope the COP in Japan has the vision to bring research to the fore to meet the challenges that biodiversity faces in the coming years.