Tag Archives: Thomas Elmqvist

Persepctives on Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya

Eight perspectives on the recent Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya.

1. Environmental economist Charles Perrings interviewed by Earth and Sky on his recent Science article 20 Biodiversity targets for 2020:

Charles Perrings: The rate of species decline is increasing, not reducing. And it’s across the board. It’s not just the charismatic megafauna [large animals] that attract the most attention – but a range of species extending across the board.

The new targets follow the acronym ‘SMART’ – meaning, specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and time-bound.

Charles Perrings: We’re arguing that it’s important that they not only be SMART but they also be relevant. The targets need to speak to the real interests people have got in ecosystem services and the biodiversity that’s needed to support these services. The targets need to recognize trade-offs between interests.

For example, Perrings said, one of the targets states, “Areas under agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.” He pointed out that the primary interests of food production and forestry are to feed and shelter people. Those basic human needs will likely overshadow the intent of conserving biodiversity.

Charles Perrings: It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how efficient we make agriculture, it’s almost certain that an expanding human population is going to involve further loss of habitat for other species. We claim that the trade-off should be addressed directly.

He said that in contrast to the 2010 target, it’s important that 2020’s targets are achievable, and that they go along with a set of indicators that can measure the progress towards success. But due to the trade offs, Perrings writes in the paper, “It may not be possible to meet all of the 2020 targets.”

2. Outcomes of the Nagoya meeting  (non-final version from CBD)

The documents provided below are advanced unedited texts reflecting the decisions as adopted on the basis of the documents presented to Plenary (the “L.” document available as in-session documents) and any amendments made during the closing Plenary session. They have not been formally edited. The final official versions of the decisions will be issued as part of the report of the meeting in due course. Statements made by Parties at the time of the adoption of the decision will also be included in the report.

3. Science Insider quotes our colleague Thomas Elmqvist and reports:

…the strategic plan sets 20 specific targets to achieve by 2020. Key targets include conserving in protected zones at least 17% of the world’s terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas, halving the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and preventing the extinction of known threatened species.

Other targets call for eliminating subsidies harmful to biodiversity, managing fisheries sustainably, and minimizing anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs.

… Negotiators also agreed to increase funding to support the efforts of the strategic plan, though specific targets for percentages or amounts are to be worked out by the time of the COP 11 meeting, scheduled for 2012 in New Delhi, India.The third key agreement is a new protocol to ensure that benefits flow back to countries and indigenous peoples who supply genetic resources that are commercialized. Developing countries had wanted the provisions of the access and benefit-sharing protocol to apply retroactively. They had also hoped for the agreement to specifically assign responsibility for tracking the use of genetic materials to patent offices, research universities, scientific journals, and other “checkpoints.” Retroactivity was stripped from the final text, though the agreement now calls for the investigation of a “global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism” to address cases where plant or animal resources were commercialized prior to the new agreement. And how to enforce compliance will be left up to each country. “It is not the text we would write ourselves, but it is a good compromise,” says Paulino Franco de Carvalho, head of the Brazilian delegation.

Among other business, delegates agreed to call for a moratorium on geoengineering schemes and to endorse a request to the United Nations General Assembly to create an Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that would produce scientific assessments on biodiversity issues much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change works on the science of climate change. “We’re quite excited about this, it’s really needed,” says Thomas Elmqvist, an ecologist at Stockholm University and a member of the Swedish delegation.

4. Reflection on Nagoya from CGIAR in  Biodiversity International welcomes Nagoya Protocol

Emile Frison, Director General of Biodiversity International, which has represented the Consortium of international agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in all the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol, was jubilant.

“The Protocol addresses issues that have pitted countries of the North and South against one other for decades. Its adoption should act as a balm on old wounds. It will help to create transparency and trust between countries, and trust is absolutely essential for countries to cooperate in using genetic resources in ways that promote food security and economic development.”

The adoption of the Nagoya Protocol  has ended six years of hard-scrabble negotiating. At issue were the conditions under which countries will provide access to genetic resources within their boundaries, the kinds of benefits that should be shared when those resources are used, and how far countries will cooperate with one another when there are allegations of illegal uses.

5. From IUCN:

“We’ve seen history in the making here in Nagoya with a landmark agreement now in place that defines the future for life on earth,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Here in Japan the international community have moved closer to the realisation that it’s time we stopped considering nature as expendable, and any related expenditure a write-off – it’s time we valued and conserved nature.”

The stakes have been high at the Nagoya conference. The latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, released two days ago, showed that nature’s very backbone is at risk – with a third of species assessed seriously threatened and many among them facing the risk of extinction. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study, known as TEEB, warns us that many of the benefits of nature that we have been taking for granted and enjoyed for free up until now are at risk of running out. The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 showed that we are on the verge of catastrophic and irreversible tipping points.

“What we’ve decided at this meeting will change the future of life on Earth – and many solutions are available to us,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “We know that targeted conservation action works. Results from the latest Red List show us that the status of biodiversity would have declined by an additional 20 percent at least, if conservation action had not been taken.”

6. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) welcomes:

the adoption of an international agreement that aims to halve the dramatic loss of ecosystems and species by 2020, and to establish ground rules for sharing and accessing the world’s genetic resources.

… Sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services is essential to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to combating poverty.

UNDP is committed to scale up its biodiversity work to help meet the Aichi Targets and to assist countries with improving management of their ecosystems.

Billions of people depend on natural ecosystems for their water supply as well as for food, medicines and other essentials.

7. The World Bank Launches Scheme To Green Government Accounts promotes ‘green’ national accounts:

The five-year pilot project backed by India, Mexico and other nations aims to embed nature into national accounts to draw in the full benefits of services such as coastal protection from mangroves or watersheds for rivers that feed cities and crops.

…”For economic ministries in particular, it’s important to have an accounting measure that they can use to evaluate not only the economic value but the natural wealth of nations,” Zoellick told Reuters in an interview.

8. And to conclude IISD’s Linkages which reports on global environmental negotiations, provides a summary of the conclusion of the Nagoya meeting:

The adoption of the package, in particular the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, was rightfully celebrated as a major success in the history of the CBD. And in this light, fears of “another Copenhagen,” popularized by the media, seem both overblown and inadequate. Aside from the package, COP 10 adopted more than 40 other decisions, including unprecedented developments on new complex issues such as geo-engineering and synthetic biology. Not all other decisions lived up to expectations, but taken together, they represent a significant step forward in multilateral cooperation on biodiversity. The CBD’s approach to implementation based on the ecosystem approach, and its mechanism for addressing new and emerging issues would have allowed work on implementation of the Convention to continue whether or not the package had been adopted. In contrast to the climate change regime, where key activities on implementation, such as the carbon market, depend on adopting a global deal on mitigation, the CBD’s agenda is being advanced through a multi-facetted system of work programmes, collaborations and partnerships across the environmental-policy board. So, even if COP 10 had failed to adopt “the package,” the remaining decisions would have allowed work on implementation of the Convention to continue.

A number of developments indicate that the CBD is in the middle of an important transformation process, towards an approach that integrates biodiversity concerns into all areas of human activity. The Strategic Plan and activities such as the TEEB study can give an important impulse to accelerate this transition. With the adoption of the ABS Protocol, it can be expected that future COPs will devote more attention to repositioning the CBD as the key international instrument to further efforts towards “life in harmony with biodiversity.” COP 10 has been a necessary and important step in that direction, not least because it showed that “Copenhagen” was a phenomenon specific to the politics of global climate change cooperation, rather than a crisis of the UN System and of global environmental multilateralism as a whole.


Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience

Maywa Montenegro interviews our colleagues Thomas Elmqvist, Brian Walker and Guy Barnett for a long article in Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience.

The article covers many projects including the ongoing Urban Atlas Project, which aims to develop new tools for understanding the social-ecological capacity to provide ecosystem services.

The article writes Urban Resilience:

Urban centers have always been hubs of innovation, creativity, and wealth, but they are also hubs of crime, disease, and environmental pollution. Cities can be models of resource efficiency—the average Manhattanite uses only 29 percent of the energy an average American uses in a year—but they also concentrate the need for huge amounts of power, water, food, and other resources. In the developing world, cities are changing faster than scientists can understand the diverse factors driving those changes, and to complicate matters further, many of those forces operate in contradictory directions and at differing scales.

In short, cities are the quintessential complex adaptive system. Which makes them, in many ways, the perfect place to explore resilience.

Brian Walker is former program director and chair of the Resilience Alliance, a loose international coalition of natural and social scientists who, in their own words, “collaborate to explore the dynamics of social-ecological systems.” In 2005, recognizing the growing impact of urbanization, the Alliance held a series of brainstorming sessions, laying the groundwork for the “Urban Network,” based out of the Stockholm Resilience Center, an interdisciplinary research group that formed at Stockholm University in 2008.

The Urban Network has research sites in 12 cities: Bangalore, New Dehli, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Canberra, Helsinki, Istanbul, and Stockholm. These cities span the globe and differ vastly in terms of culture, history, and economic development. The ultimate goal, according to Thomas Elmqvist, lead researcher of the Network, is to do a comparative analysis of these cities. How are they similar or different with respect to handling development? How do they compare it comes to withstanding shocks and surprises?

“As humans, we should try to understand how to manage systems in order to avoid passing thresholds,” says Elmqvist. But this is especially difficult in urban contexts, which have already been so transformed by humans that they’ve breached most of the thresholds ecologists are familiar with. When great expanses of concrete and steel now exist where trees and streams once did, new tipping points must be defined for places that are, as Elmqvist puts it, “already tipped.”

Case studies are now underway in each of the Network’s 12 participating cities. But in deciding what kind of data to gather, researchers have had to ask themselves: What would a city look like through the lens of resilience?


A city’s lifeblood is a continuous flow of stuff—fuel, consumer products, people, and services that enter it either actively, through human effort, or passively through natural processes like solar radiation, atmospheric currents, and precipitation. Ecologists often talk about these resource flows in terms of inputs and outputs. They’ve developed several budgetary models of accounting for them, including the well-known “ecological footprint.”

The resilience approach, according to ecologist Guy Barnett of the Urban Network’s Canberra research team, focuses less on the resources that cities consume and more on the interdependencies along the chain of supply and demand. Dependence on a single type of fuel as an energy source, for instance, creates a highly vulnerable system—especially if fuel prices are volatile or if the supply is prone to disruption.