Wilson Lab Journal Club: The Convention of Biological Diversity’s Target for 2010, and beyond

By Jessica Walsh

The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) had global target for significantly reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. There has recently been a flurry of activity to establish a new target for beyond 2010, and to develop indicators that will measure the progress made towards reaching it.

We, as conservation scientists, have a key role to play in the development and implementation of this biodiversity target for 2020. But, before a new target is set for the coming decade, we need to make a critical assessment of the strengths and limitations of the 2010 target.

First, we might ask ourselves whether global targets are even useful and worthwhile. They can act as visionary statements to inspire mass global action towards a desired outcome, and facilitate cooperation and collaboration between affected parties that would otherwise not exist. However, the Convention did not specify how the 2010 target should be achieved, where the funding would come from, or who would be accountable for implementing the actions. For these reasons, there was a major disassociation between the top down governing body, UNEP, and the national and local levels where implementation was required.

Perhaps the 2010 (or 2020) target would be better classified as a broad goal, under which there would be clearly stated objectives (such as to maximise the gain is species protection) with associated targets to be achieved. If the 2020 global target is restated as an ambitious and brave goal, it will uphold its purpose as an inspiring vision, but it must also be complemented with realistic objectives and targets for achieving these objectives.

Mace and collaborators (2010) propose that there be 3 sub-targets (or sub-goals) that distinguish between biodiversity that is vital for humans to survive (red targets), species that have no utilitarian benefit to humans, but are valued by society as important for aesthetic or cultural reasons (green targets), and the processes required to ‘understand and govern’ the system (blue targets). This suggestion to split biodiversity into the red and green categories is potentially risky because it essentially puts priority and urgency on the red targets and in a world where resources are limited, the green targets would be largely ignored. Conversely, by emphasising this divide, it enables these priorities to be explicit and clarifies to the general public that biodiversity conservation is critical for everyone’s survival, not just those interested in environmental issues.

As scientists, there is little incentive to align our research agendas towards achieving the global CBD target and any efforts to implement on-ground or policy conservation actions are not formally recognised. If merit was given to academics for instigating successful conservation projects (in addition to the number of publications) as a form of encouragement, it would augment the biodiversity outcomes achieved globally. But, in the immediate future it is our responsibility to be involved with the development of clear objectives and associated targets for the CBD, to ensure that they are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) (Tear et al. 2005).

Literature cited

Mace et al. 2010. Biodiversity targets after 2010. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Issues 1-2 May 2010, 3-8.

Tear et al. 2005. How Much Is Enough? The Recurrent Problem of Setting Measurable Objectives in Conservation. Bioscience 55, 835-849.