With the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recently announcing that none of its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 has been reached, a new paper in the journal Science, led by a team of Earth Commission scientists, outlines how the next generation of biodiversity goals should be designed.

The authors say that in order to achieve recovery, ecosystems, species, genetic diversity and nature’s contributions to people all need distinct goals, and these goals must be woven together into a safety net and reflect a high level of ambition.

According to the scientists, three points are critical for governments to take into account when setting the new biodiversity goals:

1.)   Multiple, distinct goals are needed for ecosystems, species, genes and nature’s contributions to people to make sure none of them falls through the gaps. Although having one target based solely on ecosystems, species or nature’s contributions to people as a shortcut for the whole of nature might be tempting, the balance of published evidence is against it. Buttressing the shared vision of the CBD (‘living in harmony with nature’) by multiple goals, each corresponding to a major facet of nature, is much safer and will better facilitate implementation.

2.)   As the facets of nature are interlinked and affect each other for better or worse, the goals must be defined and delivered holistically, not in isolation.

3.)   Only the highest level of ambition for setting each goal, and implementing all goals in an integrated manner, will give a realistic chance of “bending” the curve of nature’s decline by 2050. It will not be enough to have, for example, an ambitious goal for reducing species extinctions if goals for ecosystems and genetic diversity are not also ambitious, and interconnected.

Ambitious goals should include a net gain of protection and retention of highly intact ecosystems. In addition, “no net loss” goals should include targeted restoration of ecosystems, both in natural and managed lands, minimal loss of species, 90 percent of genetic diversity conserved, and a broad range of nature’s contributions to people secured. Less ambitious goals will be insufficient to conserve and sustain the multiple, interrelated facets of nature and its contributions to people.

Said the paper’s lead author, Sandra Diaz of Córdoba National University: “We hope this is a useful tool in the CBD negotiations on a new strategy for nature and people. Building a sufficiently ambitious safety net for nature will be a major global challenge, but unless we do it, we are leaving huge problems for every future generation.”

Added James Watson of WCS and the University of Queensland and a co-author of the study: “This paper underscores that a safety net cannot be focussed on simplistic goals and it is very possible to set multiple interlinked targets needed to tackle nature’s decline. And paramount as an essential target is securing the last remaining intact ecosystems for nature conservation and abating climate change.”

The paper comes at a critical time. Policymakers, scientists and country negotiators are now preparing for the next set of biodiversity goals for 2030 and 2050, to be adopted by the CBD 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in China, now postponed to 2021.