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Transformative Change of our Relationship with Nature: Key to Saving Global Biodiversity

The writers are Co-Chairs of the IPBES Transformative Change Assessment

Credit: Mila Drumeva / iStock

BONN, Germany, Jul 4 2023 (IPS) - To most people, ‘transformative change’ is an abstract academic catchphrase. But transformative change is far more than that. It is the foundational response necessary to address the global crisis of biodiversity loss that threatens the wellbeing of every person in every community – and every species in every region.

Species of plants and animals around the world are going extinct at a rate at least tens to hundreds of times greater than the average over the past 10 million years. A million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction. Seventy five percent of our global land surface and 66% of the ocean area has been significantly altered by human activity. Rapid increases in greenhouse gas emissions, consumption patterns and an extraordinary concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small minority are profoundly damaging nature’s contributions to people. They threaten the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. We are on the path towards a disastrous future.

But altering course to achieve a sustainable, just, and prosperous world is possible. Getting to such a world requires different choices. It requires transformative change. There is broad scientific consensus that justice and equity are integrally connected with sustainability. This means that halting and reversing biodiversity loss will not be accomplished by small, slow, incremental changes. Deep, structural, and rapid changes, are necessary and possible. They will entail both individual and collective action. They will span behavioural, social, cultural, economic, institutional, technical and technological dimensions.

To succeed, transformative change must begin now. Shifts towards greater justice, equity and sustainability require clear evidence on how transformative change comes about – especially how it can lead to a fairer distribution of resources, capacities and benefits for socially, economically and politically disadvantaged and marginalised groups. This knowledge exists. Evidence and strategies that translate knowledge about transformations into actions for transformations are needed. The transformative change assessment aims to pinpoint the necessary evidence and strategies.

Representatives of the 139 member States of IPBES, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, tasked the world’s leading experts to undertake a thematic assessment of transformative change over more than four years. The aim is to better understand and identify the specific elements of human society that can be leveraged to bring about transformative change for the conservation, restoration, and wise use of biodiversity, taking into account broader social and economic goals in the context of sustainable development.

The transformative change assessment process is now well advanced. Due to be considered by IPBES member States in 2024, and published thereafter, the IPBES Transformative Change Assessment Report will provide the knowledge and policy options to help governments, decision-makers, organisations and even individuals to better understand and act to address the drivers of change that link biodiversity loss with social, economic, political and cultural dimensions.

The report will highlight specific actionable options to meet the targets of the newly adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The assessment draws on more than 10,000 sources – including scientific publications, government data, as well as vital indigenous and local knowledge. It explores diverse case studies of historical transformations and examines quantitative evidence on past and ongoing transformations. It investigates the likely trajectories of change into the future and how to turn away from the catastrophic path on which we are currently marching. This evidence will allow the assessment and its audiences to pinpoint the drivers and consequences of transformations, avoid potential pitfalls to ensure nature-positive changes, and propel the planet towards sustainability and wellbeing.

Transformative change is not only an environmental issue. It is also a social, economic and justice issue. Creating an equitable world that recognizes the fundamental interdependence of human well-being and the health of the natural world is simultaneously about creating a world that is sustainable, resilient and prosperous for all people and all nature.

About the Authors:

Dr. Arun Agrawal is a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, USA.

Dr. Lucas Garibaldi is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Rio Negro and a researcher for the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Argentina.

Dr. Karen O’Brien is a professor at the University of Oslo, Norway.

IPS UN Bureau


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