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A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil on November 22, 2014. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Scientists Urge 'Transformative Change' to Stave Off Climate, Biodiversity Collapse

"As the window to avoid far-reaching and irreversible impacts on people and nature rapidly closes, the current actions to address these global challenges are insufficient."

Jessica Corbett

Building on a landmark report from last year, 18 top scientists this week emphasized "the need for transformative change" to take on the connected biodiversity and climate crises—and that "bringing about transformative change requires transformative governance."

"We need urgent and decisive action amidst the accelerating climate and biodiversity crises."

The paper, published Wednesday in the journal BioScience, points out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns the world could surpass the Paris agreement's 1.5°C temperature target for 2100 by the end of this decade.

The article also highlights a conclusion from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that "reversing the processes of biodiversity decline can only be achieved through intentional and transformative changes across economic, social, political, and technological systems."

"As the window to avoid far-reaching and irreversible impacts on people and nature rapidly closes, the current actions to address these global challenges are insufficient," the article asserts.

Incremental changes, the paper states, "are unlikely to gain sufficient traction to be scaled up if they are not accompanied by broader system-wide institutional changes to create the structural conditions for such scaling up to occur," and "also risk being too slow to avoid severe negative impacts on people and nature."

"Strategies to address some of the negative trends have been proposed," the publication continues. "However, the feedback loops and interactions among biodiversity, climate, and society at multiple spatial, temporal, and organizational scales—what we label in the present article the biodiversity-climate-society (BCS) nexus—are generally ignored."

The authors previously contributed to the first joint publication of the IPCC and IPBES, which highlights that though "climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the most pressing issues of the Anthropocene" and "there is recognition in both scientific and policymaking circles that the two are interconnected, in practice they are largely addressed in their own domains."

"This functional separation creates a risk of incompletely identifying, understanding, and dealing with the connections between the two," that June 2021 report adds. "In the worst case, it may lead to taking actions that inadvertently prevent the solution of one or the other, or both issues."

The new article "is designed to contribute to the much-anticipated and long-delayed 'Paris-style agreement for nature' set to take place later this year in Kunming, China where 196 countries will aim to set ambitious goals for biodiversity," according to a Wednesday statement. "The authors hope that their calls for transformative change will help to better inform the setting of biodiversity objectives, targets, and indicators for the next decade."

The paper's lead author, Unai Pascual of the Basque Center for Climate Change, said Wednesday that "international policy initiatives such as the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity are surprisingly lagging behind the scientific evidence about the need to integrate a climate-biodiversity-society nexus perspective in their decisions."

"I hope that the efforts by the global scientific community in this regard will be followed up by action from the policymakers," he added. "We need urgent and decisive action amidst the accelerating climate and biodiversity crises."

Pascual and the other authors examined case studies on forest and marine ecosystems, urban environments, and the Arctic. In the Canadian Arctic, the paper notes, "Inuit codevelopment and comanagement are key components of recent marine conservation efforts."

"The codesign of conservation objectives by Inuit and federal parties allows for a rights-based approach to governing conservation areas that includes Inuit active participation and represents a governance approach that can provide cobenefits in terms of protecting species and ecosystems, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustaining Inuit livelihoods and subsistence harvesting," the document explains.

"It is unlikely that we are able to resolve the climatic, environmental, and social crises that humanity faces today using the same logic that created these challenges."

Other examples they explored include efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the Brazilian Amazon, battles over formally protecting swaths of the high seas, and tree-planting schemes that are "restricted to cities with already high socioeconomic status or well-off locations" within urban areas.

"Ideally, transformative governance would catalyze and create inclusive (but sometimes intentionally disruptive) approaches for upscaling of more effective and just interventions in the BCS space," the article says. "But our examples show this is rarely achieved."

The scientists crafted five principles that "policy interventions could follow to facilitate moving from reformist (incremental and shallow) to deeper transformational governance for the BCS nexus." They are: focus on multifunctional interventions; integrate and innovate across scales; create coalitions of support; ensure equitable approaches; and build social tipping points.

The paper comes as scientists have grown increasingly outspoken about the dangerous path the planet is on, from sending impassioned letters to world leaders to joining protests—such as gluing themselves to a U.K. government building to demand an end to "fossil fuel madness."

"It is unlikely that we are able to resolve the climatic, environmental, and social crises that humanity faces today using the same logic that created these challenges," Victoria Reyes-García of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona—a co-author of both the new article and last year's joint report—warned Wednesday, echoing the paper's broad message.

"On their own, technological fixes, current governance structures, and economic incentives/disencentives will not suffice to generate the transformative change needed to ensure a future with a livable climate, a rich environment, and just societies," she said. "To achieve these goals, we need urgent changes in the way we value nature and govern the rich common heritage of the Earth."

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