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expert reaction to Global Biodiversity Outlook 5

A report, published by the United Nations, has looked at global biodiversity.


Prof John Spicer, Professor of Marine Zoology at Plymouth University, said:

“Compared with last year’s publication of the landmark Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, in this latest UN report both little has changed and everything has changed. We knew last year that achieving the Aichi biodiversity targets set for 2020, and which this UN report is the final word on, would be disappointing  – even with the little glimmers of hope  where they were met, such as increasing the extent of protected areas, in the ocean and on land.  And the plea for ‘transformative change’ in last year’s Assessment seemed to lack traction.

“Published in the midst of what can only be described as a time of dramatic and unexpected transformative change sparked by Covid-19, this new UN report re-iterates much of what was published last year – but now, in Sept 2020, it has a new feel, and a renewed urgency. The report’s recommended 8 transitions away from ‘business as usual’ contain much that is familiar. However, they feel new and now maybe even possible. The UN report shows that though the successes of the last 10 years are limited, they are possible. Change is possible. One of the new elements in the UN report is that Covid 19 has demonstrated our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of the biodiversity we need just to survive. The present context transforms what this document would have looked like if it had been published at the beginning of 2020. What now comes across strongly is when we damage biodiversity we damage ourselves – but there is a way out.

“Context is everything. We need transformative change. We’ve seen and experienced for ourselves in 2020 that such change is possible. This UN report outlines a path that we know is not just needful but possible. We can afford to maintain our biodiversity, and our own existence. The content of this UN report shows we cannot afford not to.”


Prof Jane Memmott, President of the British Ecological Society, said:

“This report brings together the highest quality evidence on the state of nature across the globe and should be commended.

“It provides the necessary basis for all nations to come together next year at the UN Convention of Biological Diversity when they will set new targets for halting and reversing the losses we are seeing in the natural world.

“The crisis in nature is such that we need to act now. Next year’s convention on halting and reversing biodiversity loss is as important as the talks on climate change. We are dependent on the natural world for our food, wellbeing and prosperity and the current rate of loss of species is seriously worrying.

“That action needs to be based on the best science, and this report gives us a status report, shows us how to monitor biodiversity and gives examples of policies and projects that are making a difference. Being able to find the right policy solutions will fundamentally depend on the latest science, continued innovation and the commitment of all.”


Prof Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said:

“The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report helps to articulate why the belief by some national leaders that socio-economic development must happen at the expense of environmental protection is flatly wrong. Investments in biodiversity are also investments in people. The report outlines 8 areas in which we need radical transitions, with ‘food’ arguably being the most critical one. I agree that we must achieve sustainable ways of feeding the world’s increasing population while safeguarding biodiversity.

“Biodiversity loss poses the biggest threat to our future and, as the report states, the only way to tackle it is through transformational changes at all levels of society. It will involve national leadership, international coordination and on-the-ground implementation. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. The world’s leaders have been good at subscribing to ambitious conservation and climate targets, but less good at implementing the changes needed to achieve them. Our planet cannot afford a similar level of failure in the next decade as in the previous one. The harsh reality is that time is running out for the world’s species. We need to turn words into action, now. There are powerful nature-based solutions to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges; we now need strong leaders to implement them.

“The scientific work carried by Kew and our partners has led to substantial progress in key global biodiversity targets set up a decade ago – such as dissemination of knowledge (Target 1), identification of key regions for conservation (Target 11) and assessment of extinction risks for plants (Target 12). Further work in those areas will contribute to the global efforts of reverting biodiversity loss.”


Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading, said:

“This report is a monumental assessment of our planet in peril. The GBO5 outlines solutions that are needed to reverse biodiversity decline. We need fundamental changes in the way we live: what we decide to buy, the food we eat, how we travel, and the design of our cities. The report shows progress in some areas, for example in the extent of protected areas. Many of the easier solutions have already been made, however, and we now need to tackle the tougher challenges. In many cases this means stopping the activities that are at the root cause of biodiversity loss.  Each of us, making internet orders at the click of a button have hidden powers to influence the state of the planet. What we choose to buy, or not to buy, is immensely influential in determining the chances for wild species to flourish across the globe. A key implication from the report is the need for each of us to become more savvy of the hidden connections behind our purchases, to be more cautious with the demi-god-like power we have as consumers to shape our planet’s future.

“GB05 pulls together many detailed assessments of the state of our natural world. The results confirm and extend our previous understanding of severe declines in our planet’s wildlife and wild places.”


Prof Andy Purvis, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, said:

“This report integrates the latest and best research on the prospects for nature. It synthesises information from global and regional assessments, country-level reports, new scientific papers, and global reports on food and climate. If anyone says “The science is still out”, then they’re wrong: the science is in.

“This work confirms what previous work was pointing to: we’re going to miss all twenty of the targets for biodiversity that the world’s governments signed up to a decade ago. That’s really shocking – twenty targets and we haven’t managed to reach any of them. One of the biggest things that’s changed since the last report is that COVID-19 has shown us starkly what can happen when we fail to consider the environmental costs of our actions – land-use change makes the emergence of new zoonotic diseases much more likely. Another change since the last report is that we have a much clearer picture of the scale of damage that we’re doing to nature; but we also have much better evidence about how to repair it

“The warning lights are flashing. We have to recognise that we’re in a planetary emergency. If we carry on with business as usual, we will all be out of business: it’s not just that species will die out, but also that ecosystems will be too damaged to meet society’s needs. But the report shows it’s not too late to change course. We have to tread more lightly on the planet – consume less, waste less. We have to produce food in more ecologically sustainable ways. We have to give TLC to damaged habitats. And we have to treat climate change with the desperate urgency it needs. Britain is hosting the next UN climate change conference next year. Our government has to step up, for all our sakes.”


Prof Rob Brooker, head of Ecological Sciences, James Hutton Institute, Scotland, said:

“The Global Biodiversity Outlook report evidences that we continue to see substantial and serious declines globally in the status of biodiversity and have failed to meet many of the targets set in 2010.

“This has huge implications for the many benefits we, in turn, receive from nature and has been brought into sharp relief by the Covid-19 crisis. There is evidence that taking concerted action can help to address declines – conservation actions have slowed or reversed declines in a small number of cases, but at the same time we see in some cases reduction in conservation action, for instance, a declines in the number of sustainable fisheries.

“A major challenge now is getting engagement in biodiversity conservation action across multiple sectors, and achieving the same levels of investment as we are now starting to see in climate change; there is a lot of interest in this kind of investment but we need to find mechanisms by which it can bring fair benefit to all stakeholders. Our researchers are working across the spectrum of these challenges including supporting efforts in monitoring (including work on national and international-level indicators), management (investigating its impacts on a wide range of habitats, and how we can work with local stakeholders and communities to find equitable solutions), and reaching out to look for novel investment opportunities to support sustainable futures, as we are doing at our Glensaugh research farm.”


Dr Alexander Lees, Senior Lecturer in conservation biology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said:

“The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report needs to shock policy makers as much, if not more, than David Attenborough’s Extinction the Facts BBC documentary has shocked the public. Saving species on the brink of extinction through last minute interventions such as captive-breeding programmes is to be celebrated, but with nearly one quarter of species threatened with extinction, we need to stem the flood of new species onto the Global Red List in the first place. This can only be done with visionary leadership and planning that seeks to secure the future of wildlife – not just in terrestrial and marine protected areas but by restoring degraded habitats – and crucially more sympathetic management of our farmed and urban environments to benefit biodiversity. This necessarily means change in our patterns of consumption of finite natural resources on land and in the ocean, but nothing short of transformative change will see a return of our lost bioabundance.”


Prof James Crabbe, Wolfson College, Oxford University, said:

“This weighty United Nations report (222 pages) on Global Biodiversity is a masterly synthesis of over 650 references linking biodiversity of life on the planet with major stressors, including climate change and health.  The aim is to guide human actions over the next decades so that we can live sustainably with nature.   

“The Report is certainly timely. As we are struggling to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, the world is looking for hope that a better and greener future can eclipse the face of this shocking reminder of the dependency of human societies on a healthy planet to support healthy lives. The prospect is not hopeful – none of the 20 Biodiversity targets made in 2011 has been fully met by 2020, with only six being partially achieved.

“A big question is whether the policy changes suggested go far enough. And what and where would be the Governance that would monitor processes and ensure that Governments and Institutions adhere to the future targets? As James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank stated: ‘Knowing is not Doing’. A vital key is on the final page of the Report: ‘Another key element in the development of pathways for living in harmony with nature will be the evolution of global financial and economic systems towards a globally sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth’.  Only then might we achieve the transformational culture change so necessary for our future existence.”


Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation & Policy, ZSL (Zoological Society of London), said:

“The Living Planet Index shows that wildlife populations have declined on average by 68% since 1970 and, if nothing changes, ZSL’s models predict as many as 558 mammal species alone will be driven to extinction by 2100. 

“National governments, including our own in the UK, have made multiple commitments to tackle the biodiversity crisis, but the GBO5 makes clear that we are failing. We know that conservation alone is not enough; it is the systemic change in our valuation and use of the natural world that will make the major shift required to avert disaster. Nature cannot be treated as an inexhaustible resource. We need to see measurable targets, greater accountability and real tracking of progress – otherwise we risk another lost decade of insufficient action.”


Declared interests

None received.

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