By Carina Wyborn (Australian National University) and Jasper Montana (University of Oxford)
Addressing interconnected challenges of environmental degradation and social justice requires revisiting the foundations of biodiversity research and action
The announcement from the UN-backed IPBES Global Assessment that 1 million species are at risk of extinction offered a sobering statistic on the state of the natural world. The potential for catastrophic loss of biodiversity highlights the need for research and action that takes the scope, complexity and stakes of environmental degradation seriously. While species loss attracts headline news, improving relations between humanity and the ecosystems and environments upon which they depend demands attention to the ways in which biodiversity loss, climate change, poverty, injustice and inequality around the globe are interconnected.
A research agenda recently published in Conservation Biology outlines the possible role for research in enabling a transition towards more diverse and just futures for life on Earth. It sets out an agenda for researchers, research funders and research institutions to consider as a possible roadmap for a way forward in biodiversity-related research.
The agenda emerged from a two-year collaboration involving nearly 300 multidisciplinary researchers, practitioners, writers and journalists of 46 nationalities called the Biodiversity Revisited initiative. The process began as a self-reflective dialogue about what was wrong with current research on biodiversity, why it had failed to mobilise collective action, and how research might move forwards in productive ways.
The published agenda argues for a principles-based approach to research and action for biodiversity, which we call ‘revisiting biodiversity’. Instead of prescribing a particular set of ‘one-size-fits-all’ actions, the agenda identities a set of nine overarching principles (Figure 1.) that can help researchers, practitioners and decision-makers to reframe biodiversity research in a holistic way that emphasises justice and the inclusion of a diversity of perspectives from different disciplines, knowledge systems and experiences.
The agenda sets out four themes.
- “Revisiting biodiversity narratives” addresses the entrenched concepts and narratives that have separated humans, cultures, economies and societies from nature.
- “Anthropocene, biodiversity, and culture” explores perspectives on the fundamental and evolving relationships between biodiversity and human cultures.
- “Nature and economy” examines the existing economic and financial systems, which are some of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss.
- “Enabling transformative biodiversity research and change” draws all of these together, focusing on what individuals and institutions can do to embrace and open up spaces for transformative change by expanding the knowledge, values and cultures utilised within biodiversity research.
These themes are not exhaustive, but set out research questions considered by the author team to be important to broadening thinking and collaboration for biodiversity, and encouraging a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes ‘desirable’ futures.
Time is of the essence and the ongoing task of revisiting biodiversity will take many forms. We hope that this agenda can offer a renewed vision of the what and the how of future transdisciplinary research and action for biodiversity and social justice. We invite others to engage with it as an open and adaptable resource that inspires, rather than prescribes, new collaborative engagement between different sectors of society and academia.
Biodiversity Revisited was led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London.