For biodiversity to thrive, conservation efforts must be ‘nature- and people-positive’, a recent study has found.

Despite decades of increasing investment in conservation, ‘bending the curve’ of biodiversity decline has not succeeded. Scientists argue that stronger outcomes for biodiversity conservation can be attained if conservation actions are combined with justice measures to tackle the underlying causes of decline.

Published in the journal One Earth, an international team of scientists from the Earth Commission, convened by Future Earth, say that efforts to meet new biodiversity targets and goals for the next three decades risk repeating past failures unless we: 1) focus attention to direct and indirect drivers of decline; 2) address unrealistic objectives and timelines for biodiversity response; and 3) address fundamental inequities of past and current conservation, and share nature’s benefits.

Potential biodiversity recovery curves for business as usual (gray), conservation only (yellow), and integrated scenarios are that combine conservation with reduced pressures on biodiveristy through reduced resourcedemand and production (green). The dashed red curve shows zero net loss of nature from 2020.


“Our research identifies the key drivers of biodiversity decline that need to be addressed, including inequality, increasing per capita consumption of resources, unsustainable technologies, investment and trade patterns, and governance systems that don’t promote care for nature,” said co-authorDr Ben Stewart-Koster, a Senior Research Fellow at theAustralian Rivers Instituteand a Research Scientist for the Earth Commission.

“We applied a new framework of ‘safe and just Earth system boundaries’ that brings together the quantification of nature (intact and semi-intact) with a set of criteria aimed at achieving justice for all humans.”

Professor Johan Rockström, co-chair of the Earth Commission and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research explains that, “Safe and just Earth system boundaries provide scientific support for the necessity of halting biodiversity loss and conserving nature as a strategy to ensure a stable planet.”

“Staying within those boundaries will improve the chances for a just future for all people.”

Dr Ben Stewart-Koster, a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Rivers Institute and a Research Scientist for the Earth Commission

Lead author and Earth Commissioner David Obura from Coastal Oceans Research Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa said, “As the urgency and challenges in resolving the biodiversity crisis increase, actions to conserve biodiversity must broaden to address root causes and the entire scope of human — nature interactions.”

“We identify ambition and equity shortfalls in dominant conservation paradigms leading up to negotiations of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022, [which]… can fundamentally undermine the long-term success for biodiversity conservation.”

Co-author Diana Liverman highlights the importance of transformations that address the drivers of biodiversity decline within a framework of justice that ensures wellbeing for all, including future generations and nature. She stresses the need to reduce pressure on the biosphere by reducing excess consumption and unsustainable trade and investments. “Consumption footprints in richer countries consistently drive biodiversity loss in poorer countries,” she said.

Solutions that avoid trade-offs between human wellbeing and conservation should be a priority. The authors point out that many proposals on conservation emphasize the importance of minimizing drivers of biodiversity loss in order to stem their impacts.

The authors state that whilst decadal targets designed to encourage behaviour change can play an important role in motivating action on difficult issues, if in 2030 targets fail to be met, as occurred in 2020, it could undermine the actions and commitments needed to achieve success in more realistic time frames.

The 22 targets contained in the draft Global Biodiversity Framework cut across most of the areas in which action is needed, so setting realistic targets and outcomes for achievement may be essential to build and maintain the commitment to achieve them.

In applying the framework of safe and just Earth system Boundaries, they identified six sets of actions aligned with the conceptual framework of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which can support the conservation community and society at large to engage with the deeper societal transformations needed for a safe and just future.

  1. Reduce and reverse direct and indirect drivers causing nature’s decline
  2. Halt and reverse biodiversity loss (i.e. ‘bend the curve’ of decline)
  3. Restore/regenerate biodiversity to a net positive state, to a safe buffer above the Earth system boundary
  4. Raise minimum wellbeing to secure each person’s fair share of the global biodiversity commons
  5. Eliminate over-consumption and excesses associated with accumulation of capital
  6. Uphold and respect the rights, responsibilities, and agency of all, in the present and future

“The proposed actions identified in this study are especially important for freshwater ecosystems, which host remarkable biodiversity, including 40% of the world’s fish species and one third of all vertebrate species,” said Professor Stuart Bunn, co-author and a member of the Earth Commission from the Australian Rivers Institute.

“Freshwater systems across the globe are highly impacted by human activities and have experienced species declines that are twice the rate of those on land and in the sea.”

Wendy Broadgate, Global Hub Director (Sweden) for Future Earth and Executive Director of the Earth Commission said, “The stakes are higher than ever. We are facing unprecedented extinction rates. A healthy biosphere is essential to support life and healthy societies. The goals for the next decade of biodiversity conservation need to consider a just future for all communities – present and future – within Earth system boundaries.”

This new research comes ahead of an associated Earth Commission report due out in early 2023 that will outline a range of ‘Earth System Boundaries’ (ESBs) to safeguard a stable and resilient planet and underpin the setting of science-based targets for businesses, cities, and governments.

The Earth Commission is the scientific cornerstone of the Global Commons Alliance.

10: Reduced Inequalities
UN Sustainable Development Goals 10: Reduced Inequalities

12: Responsible Consumption and Production
UN Sustainable Development Goals 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

15: Life on Land
UN Sustainable Development Goals 15: Life on Land

16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
UN Sustainable Development Goals 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

17: Partnerships for the Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals 17: Partnerships for the Goals