About one million species are threatened with extinction. Over 75% of terrestrial environments and 66% of marine environments have been significantly altered by humans. Most 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be missed.
These are the numbers and facts and headlines that many heard around the world in May when the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — yes, a mouthful, so we just use their acronym, IPBES (pronounced “IP-bus”) — released its summary of the global assessment on the status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The authors did not mince words and synthesis of the underlying science and threats driving these declines was sobering. But there was another critically important message from the global assessment, and one that we can too easily overlook in the day-to-day onslaught of bad news about our environment:
It’s that positive and hopeful message that helps keep us going when the going is tough. Along with understanding the scale and causes of the problems, the opportunities for protection and survival are why wildlife and their habitats have been receiving more attention of late. And it was a key reason why earlier this year I was nominated to serve on the Policy Tools and Methodologies Task Force of IPBES. This is an opportunity to help shape the science-policy connections that will hopefully bring about the transformative change that wildlife and habitats need (and human society must make) in the coming years and decades.
In November, I traveled to Bonn, Germany to participate in the IPBES joint task force meeting with about 200 other conservation scientists and policy experts. The five task forces focus on identifying challenges, finding solutions to improve science, and ultimately arming decision-makers with that science so they can make the transformative change happen. For example, the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Task Force is working ensuring that local knowledge and values are an integral part of assessments and the Scenarios Task Force is working on ensuring we have good and well-explained scientific models of future conditions.
Our task force is focused on making sure that the science that comes out of IPBES assessments is maximally useful to policymakers: science that isn’t read and understood by those with the authority to make decisions is of limited use for driving needed change. We’re asking how we can help assessment authors or parties outside of IPBES create short briefs of incredibly complex topics so that decision-makers at the highest levels of government or business can learn enough to mobilize their staff to take new actions. How can we make sure authorship teams have both the scientists and the policy experts needed to meld these topics? How can we help ensure that technology is used to make policy recommendations as easily accessible as possible? How can we work with the Capacity Building Task Force to better disseminate conservation science and policy to new audiences? These and many other issues are in our purview, all driven by the goal of improving the conservation of wildlife and their habitats — biodiversity — in the U.S. and around the world.
So, are there a million species at risk of extinction? Yes, there are. Are their habitats in the U.S. and around the world under threat from human activity? Yes, they are. Is human society dependent on ensuring wildlife and habitats, and all the services they provide, are maintained? Yep, absolutely. But do we have a chance to turn things around? Yes. I am proud to be working with concerned individuals around the world as part of the IPBES community. We have the will and the tools to make sure protections for biodiversity are enacted and good science is given a voice. We still have time to stop extinction.