Themes for exploration

Photo © Shutterstock / Olga Kashubin / WWF

At the heart of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative is the reframing of ‘biodiversity’.

Although biodiversity is a holistic concept, for ease of dialogue we have chosen six ways of exploring biodiversity. These are starting points for discussion and will likely evolve over time from ongoing inputs to the initiative.

Concepts deal with how a phenomenon is understood, discussed and managed within society and are thus a critical building block for both research and action. There are, however, a range of other ways in which the living systems on earth can be conceptualised, including for example, nature, resilience, the Anthropocene, planetary boundaries or the biosphere. Innovative concepts may provide a more adequate conceptualisation of the different aspects of living diversity on the planet, and may speak to a broader audience.

Narratives refer to the stories that people create or engage with around biodiversity, and can inspire new thinking or action. Biodiversity narratives have ranged from aesthetic and moral ideas (e.g. “biodiversity is beautiful”) to more functional notions (e.g. “biodiversity underpins society”). While these narratives hold power within certain communities, lack of effective action on biodiversity suggests that they have failed to resonate in ways that matter to the majority of the general public. There are new emerging narratives around ‘nature’s value for humans’, ‘a new deal for nature’ and the risks posed by the degradation of biodiversity. Alternative narratives could consider the importance of non-human life for human futures or provide a more holistic appreciation of the biosphere from which to mobilise action.

Science – despite significant research, key drivers of biodiversity loss are poorly captured within metrics to measure progress on biodiversity conservation; and there remains a rudimentary understanding of what constitutes a dangerous degree of biodiversity loss. There is a need to critically evaluate the role of biodiversity science and metrics in providing a holistic appreciation of the dynamics and interconnections between life on earth and other biophysical and biogeochemical processes, while also considering other forms of knowledge (e.g. local, indigenous, practical, etc.) and academic approaches (e.g. from the social sciences, humanities, arts) that may provide new understandings of the importance and dynamics of living diversity and natural systems.

Governance in its broadest form is the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that leads to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions. The governance of biodiversity involves far wider considerations than the political processes that exist within and between formal and informal institutions that have been established. Governance in this sector is extremely complex as biodiversity and the problems arising thereof are multi-scaled, involving strong issues of sovereignty and multiple stakeholders with a multitude of claims and legitimacy concerning rights to make decisions.

Systems – a system is a group of interacting or interrelated entities that form a unified and functioning whole. Systems encompass different scales but are generally delineated by spatial and temporal boundaries. Biodiversity is an integral part of the ‘Earth System’ – the interacting physical, chemical and biological processes of the biosphere together with deep Earth and impinging extraterrestrial influences. Recent emphasis on systems approaches stresses their value in addressing complex problems, yet with this increased dominance of ‘globalised’ framings of environmental concerns, local and contextual understandings are crowded out in ways that can de-motivate action.

Futures is concerned with moving towards more anticipatory, proactive approaches to decision-making for biodiversity in order to face the many unknown and unknowable aspects of future social, political and environmental systems. Integrating future concerns into current day decision-making is of existential importance to humanity, yet the dominant approaches to managing biodiversity are largely reactive and backwards looking – seeking to conserve species or landscape as it was in the past.