Plant and animal species across the world are steadily disappearing due to human activity. An international research group led by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) including Associate Professor Tomoko Hasegawa of the College of Science and Engineering publishes a major new study suggesting that without ambitious, integrated action combining conservation and restoration efforts with a transformation of the food system, turning the tide of biodiversity by 2050 or earlier will not be possible.
Biodiversity - the variety and abundance of species, along with the extent and quality of the ecosystems they call home - has been declining at an alarming rate for many years. It is clear that we cannot allow the current trend to continue. If it does, there will simply not be enough nature left to support future generations. While ambitious targets have been proposed, practical issues such as feeding the Earth’s growing human population could make reaching such targets a challenge.
The study, which has been published in Nature and forms part of the latest Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Planet Report, for the first time set out to explore biodiversity targets as ambitious as a reversal in global biodiversity trends and shed light on what integrated future pathways to achieving this goal might entail.
“We wanted to assess in a robust manner whether it might be feasible to bend the curve of declining terrestrial biodiversity due to current and future land use, while avoiding jeopardizing our chances to achieve other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” explains study lead author and IIASA researcher David Leclere. “If this were indeed possible, we also wanted to explore how to get there and more specifically, what type of actions would be required, and how combining various types of actions might reduce trade-offs among objectives and instead exploit synergies.”
Using multiple models and newly developed scenarios to explore how addressing these elements in an integrated way might help reach biodiversity targets, the study provides key information on pathways that could materialize the 2050 vision of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity - “Living in harmony with nature”. For global trends of terrestrial biodiversity as affected by land use change to stop declining and start recovering by 2050 or earlier, the researchers say that action is needed in two key areas:
●Bold conservation and restoration efforts together with increased management effectiveness, will have to rapidly be stepped up. The study assumes that protected areas quickly reach 40% of global terrestrial areas. This should happen in tandem with large efforts to restore degraded land (reaching about 8% of terrestrial areas by 2050 in the study scenarios) and land use planning efforts that balance production and conservation objectives on all managed land. Without such efforts, declines in biodiversity may only be slowed down rather than halted and any potential recovery would remain slow.
●Food system transformation: As bold conservation and restoration efforts alone will likely be insufficient, additional measures are needed to address global pressures on the food system. Efforts to bend the curve of global terrestrial biodiversity include reduced food waste, diets that have a lower environmental impact, and further sustainable intensification and trade.
Integrated action would however need to be taken in both areas simultaneously to bend the biodiversity loss curve upward by 2050 or earlier.
With the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 coming to an end with mixed outcomes, the study’s findings are directly relevant to on-going negotiations at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
Leclere D, Obersteiner M, Barrett M, Butchart SHM, Chaudhary A, De Palma A, DeClerck FAJ, Di Marco M, et al. (2020). Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy. Nature DOI:
Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy