24 May 2019

Why aren’t countries meeting their targets to tackle the loss of nature?

You may have seen the recent news that one million species are at risk of extinction. But how did the world get to this point, and what can we do to turn things around? Thankfully, the report that brought this crisis into the public eye also sheds light on the solutions.

15% of land and freshwater environments are now protected - but is it enough? © Bjorn Olesen
15% of land and freshwater environments are now protected - but is it enough? © Bjorn Olesen
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Earlier this month, a shocking report showing that one million species are at risk of extinction made headlines. Released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), it was held up as a damning indictment of humanity’s destructive nature. But how did we get to this point? And is there anything we can do to slow or even stop this catastrophic loss of biodiversity?

The answers to those questions can be found within the report itself. Chapter three analyzes progress made toward the 2020 Aichi Targets: 20 goals adopted by the world’s governments in 2010 to address biodiversity loss. The analysis found that countries have made poor progress overall in achieving the targets. However, analyzing the pattern of progress and reasons for variation helps us to understand what we need to do and change in the future.

“This report should be a wake-up call to decision-makers: we are not on track to meet universal goals for safeguarding the biodiversity on our planet,” Says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Chief Scientist, who co-led Chapter Three of the report. “Individual successes, from species saved to ecosystems restored, show that we have the knowledge and tools to turn around the biodiversity crisis, but transformational change and sustained political commitment is required.”

Each of the Aichi Targets comprises multiple components (54 in total), and progress was assessed towards each of these, based on numeric indicators, a review of scientific papers and other sources, and government reports. Progress was classified as either good, moderate, poor or unknown. Worryingly, the IPBES report found that good progress was made toward just five elements of four Aichi targets.


One such area where good progress has been made is the expansion of the extent of protected areas, which now cover nearly 15 percent of terrestrial and freshwater environments and over 7% of marine environments, approaching the target thresholds of 17% and 10% respectively. However, many of the most important locations for nature – Key Biodiversity Areas (which encompass and extend beyond Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas) still lack adequate protection. Furthermore, many protected areas are not effectively managed, and are in effect, ‘paper parks’.

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Another target element that has been well advanced is the identification and prioritization of invasive alien species that threaten native wildlife, particularly on islands. This is now being translated into action, with eradications of damaging species being implemented successfully in some of the highest priority locations. However, invasive species continue to spread, with native species populations deteriorating as a result, indicating that greater efforts are needed to reduce the impacts of invasive species and to strengthen biosecurity.

The target on which the least progress has been made addresses the impact of climate change on coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems. This example is illustrative of a wider trend the authors found when analyzing progress toward the Aichi targets: countries made least headway in tackling the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as habitat destruction, and unsustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Because of this, the state of nature continues to decline at an alarming rate, leading to the conclusions recently published in the IPBES report.

The question now is: how can this be changed? In 2020, government delegations will once again gather to determine new targets to ensure we live in harmony with nature. How can we do better than we have done over the last decade and ensure that in another ten years we will be well on the way to a more sustainable future?

“Our finding that we are unlikely to meet most of the Aichi Targets is not surprising to most conservationists” Butchart says. “But the lessons learned over the last decade must inform the development of the new post-2020 framework for biodiversity.”

The IPBES report contains two broad sets of messages. Firstly, we need to see transformative change: system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, driven by a new set of ambitious targets. Secondly, these targets need to be smarter: more specific, less ambiguous, better quantified and more easily measured, with indicators available to track progress from day one.

For the past 50 years, progress in human development has come at the price of the environment. But this does not have to be the case. The progress made towards some of the Aichi targets shows that conservation can be effective, and does not have to come at the cost of development – as sustainable farming initiatives such as Ibis Rice have shown. But an ambitious new biodiversity framework, supported by smarter targets, is needed to ensure that at the end of the next decade one million species are no longer under threat of extinction.