UN biodiversity targets are structured to give a false sense of conservation achievement, according to a new research paper.
The scientific team, led by the California Academy of Sciences, found that current global progress towards sustainability goals is not fast enough to avert the biodiversity crisis. The UN has also in some cases agreed with an “uneven” conservation strategy by ratifying flawed target achievements that favour protection of low conflict and low diversity areas.
Lead author of the paper Dr Hudson Pinheiro said: “We want policy leaders to recognise that some targets need to be reassessed and improved in order to optimise the sustainability of the world’s marine ecosystems and make real progress towards averting the biodiversity crisis.”
One such sustainability target requires signatory countries to protect 10% of their coastal waters as marine-protected areas by 2020. However, to meet this target, countries are protecting large expanses of ocean that are low conflict and of little biological diversity as opposed to coastal regions that are most in need. To dissuade countries from doing this, the research team recommends dropping this target and in favour of focusing on protecting the highest number of species and ecosystem types.
The paper also note that UN countries have turned their focus to expanding “clean” energy sectors, like hydroelectricity, that still depend on environmental polluting practices. Major challenges presented by signatory governments are slowing down or compromising achieving targets, the paper adds, and industry and local governments must promote marine conservation policies despite the positions of their national governments.
“Investment in education and outreach is essential,” Pinheiro said. “Now is the time for scientists, managers, and stakeholders to work together to defend marine biodiversity, ecosystem services, and resources that the world depends on. And it starts with a critical reevaluation of sustainability targets, how they are being met, and how they motivate marine conservation.”
The team presented challenges and recommendations related to marine protected areas, coastal ecosystem management, overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.