Living in harmony with nature: What does that mean, and how do we get there?

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chefs join children from Bancroft and Tubman Elementary Schools to harvest vegetables during the third annual White House Kitchen Garden fall harvest on the South Lawn, Oct. 5, 2011.

In the “super year” for biodiversity, countries are set to negotiate a “new deal for nature” in October 2020. Here are biodiversity experts’ three recommendations for a narrative that helps mobilize action on biodiversity.

The current state of biodiversity is alarming: Species extinction rates have taken on unprecedented levels. Human activities have already significantly altered three quarters of the world's land and two thirds of its marine area. More than 85 per cent of wetland area has been lost. These findings from the 2019 Global Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) confirm what we already know: stakes are high. To halt these alarming trends and make the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)'s vision of “living in harmony with nature” a reality, we need a “transformative change”, the IPBES says.

Time is running short to mitigate or reverse trends in biodiversity loss. Countries are currently negotiating a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to be adopted at the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the CBD. Prior efforts to halt biodiversity loss have not been able to “bend the curve” and slow biodiversity loss. Expectations for the negotiations therefore are high.

In February 2020, the second round of negotiations on the new global framework took place in Rome. At the same time, scientists and policy experts gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss how to harness the potential and impetus of COP-15. What sort of narratives can help to bring the CBD vision to life and inspire action from all parts of society?

Here are three key elements that will be vital to ensure that the new post-2020 framework will lead to much needed action to address biodiversity loss.

#1 Imagining transformative change through the eyes of many

The Zero Draft of the new framework released in January 2020 as well as the latest round of negotiations in Rome in February have reiterated the need for transformative change. However, what the notion of transformative change would mean in practice remains vague: How radical would such a transformation of our economies and societies be? How can people develop ownership? Why would companies and the financial sector want to get involved? We need to imagine and spell out what the CBD's vision of “living in harmony with nature” means and how transformative change can lead to a future in which this vision holds true. 

IPBES is currently preparing an assessment on transformative change that will also involve the development of so-called biodiversity futures. The IPBES assessment will need to build on an interactive dialogue with stakeholders from civil society and the private sector to ensure that these biodiversity futures reflect the values and needs of different actors worldwide. Even more importantly, we need a broader dialogue to fill the CBD vision with life that goes beyond the IPBES assessment and engages with the question of what a biodiversity-friendly future would look like.

#2 Inspiring transformative change by a multitude of approaches, leaving space for more radical ideas

In the face of continued biodiversity loss, we need to invite new perspectives and more radical ideas on how to live “in harmony with nature”. Transformative change could imply rather drastic changes to our current way of life; it is important to provide space for unorthodox options in order to spur our imagination and to raise awareness for the large variety of possible futures we can choose from. Such a more diverse set of options and perspectives can provide a sounding board for a deeper understanding of what transformative change would mean and where we may need new complementary approaches to address biodiversity loss.

Promising ideas and initiatives which could further inspire dialogue on transformative change include concepts such as a basic income for so-called biodiversity hotspots or initiatives such as the Slow Food movement, which aims to reconnect farmers and urban consumers. Slow Food, for instance, shows how biodiversity is deeply embedded in local culture and as such obtains meaning and purpose. Such initiatives provide small-scale solutions and could be seen as short and medium term actions for a longer-term vision. 

#3 Learning from the climate movement on how to press for transformative change 

Recently, climate change has risen considerably on the political agenda due to movements such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion. These movements were able to shift the discourse on climate action within a short time period. Biodiversity loss would need a similar social mobilization for transformative change to pressure decision makers.

In the climate context, the call for a transformation of economic sectors predates the Paris Agreement (e.g. Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions). Conceptualisations of how transformations towards a more climate-friendly economy therefore developed over a longer period of time. Furthermore, while for climate change there may be some technological fixes available, addressing biodiversity loss often involves a change of practices (e.g. in the agricultural sector). From this perspective, biodiversity loss and transformative change for biodiversity may appear to more substantially challenge the status quo than climate change responses.

The prolonged discussion on transformative change and an availability of technological fixes may have helped to reinvigorate the climate movement. For biodiversity, the setting is less ideal; in the absence of technological fixes we will need to develop stronger narratives to scale and anchor biodiversity-friendly practices in various sectors and facilitate the transformation of lifestyles and consumption patterns. 

This article is based on the panel discussion “New ideas for biodiversity – disruptive approaches to inspire and reinvigorate the debate”, organised and moderated by Kathrin Ludwig and held on 27 February 2020 at the World Biodiversity Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The panel session is part of adelphi´s pilot project “Disruptive Ideas 4 Nature”. Its goal is to showcase new approaches which help to further illustrate what transformative change could entail. Highlighting the role of experimentation and learning, we aim to contribute to an ongoing discussion on rethinking biodiversity governance. Read more about the project and the panel session

Contact person: Dennis Tänzler

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