How we’re targeting global plans to save nature

10 October 2022 | By: Newcastle University | 3 min read
Image of an orangutan

With over 1 million species at risk of extinction, it’s clear our planet is facing a crisis. And, despite ongoing global efforts to save our natural world, it continues to decline.

In a few months, crucial biodiversity talks will take place at COP 15, where new goals and targets for saving nature will be agreed upon. But, research into a draft of the Framework says it will not go far enough.

A key outcome of the Framework is the conservation of species, and we now know that 57% of threatened species need targeted actions to improve their chances of survival.

We sat down with Newcastle University’s Professor of Conservation Science and Policy, Philip McGowan, to chat about how ‘targeted recovery actions' should be included in the UN Convention’s Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework, if we are serious about tackling extinction.

What are the main causes of extinction?

The significant increase in extinctions that we are witnessing are the result of human activities, such as cutting down forests and converting land into fields for farming.

In 2019, the United Nations published a report that identified five drivers of biodiversity loss.

The drivers are:

  • changes in land and sea use
  • direct exploitation of organisms
  • climate change
  • pollution 
  • invasive alien species

What is the Global Biodiversity Framework?

This Framework is a strategy to guide actions, worldwide, in safeguarding nature and securing our future.

And, Prof McGowan and his team have been evaluating the draft Framework due to be agreed this December at COP 15. Once agreed, this strategy will be in place for 10 years.

‘With COP 15, we are approaching a critical moment for nature, where once-in-a-decade plans will be agreed by governments to save our natural world. These will span ten years and it’s simply something we cannot afford to get wrong.

‘Our research evaluated the first eight targets in the latest draft of this Framework, these addressed global threats to biodiversity and active species management. And we explored how they could contribute to reducing extinction risk of threatened vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants,' said Prof McGowan.

‘Overall, many species will benefit from policies and actions arising from other targets in the Framework, but these alone will not remove the risk of extinction that many of these species face.

‘We needed to find out which species would fall through the gaps if we didn’t meet the specific needs for that group as part of their recovery needs.

‘What’s clear is that for more than half of the species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, reducing broad-based threats isn’t enough.

'I was alarmed at the scale of the challenge, which is why we proposed that something called ‘targeted recovery actions’ are included in the Framework.’

What are targeted recovery actions?   

Targeted recovery actions include:

  • captive breeding in zoos or botanical gardens
  • reintroduction into the wild
  • vaccination against disease
  • and other species-specific interventions

‘Now, we can identify the species that need such action, and we can monitor what is being done and what the impact of action is on those threatened species. It’s great progress for our natural world,’ said Prof McGowan.

What species are at risk? 

The research used the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species to assess the species that fell under the terms: Vulnerable; Endangered; Critically Endangered, and Extinct in the Wild.

Just some of those included were:

  • 2,444 amphibians
  • 1,486 birds
  • 1,325 mammals
  • 484 marine lobsters and freshwater crabs, crayfish and shrimps,
  • 232 reef-forming corals
  • 9 hagfish and,
  • 2 horseshoe crabs

Why should we worry?

‘It’s quite simple, as humans we need clean air, food and a liveable climate, all of which are regulated by the natural world. We are irrevocably interconnected. Think of it like a big game of Jenga, if we allow some species to become extinct, and that ‘block’ to be removed, at what point does the tower tumble?

‘We need to keep raising awareness about how interconnected we are to species and wider biodiversity, even if we don't feel that connection and dependence day-in, day-out,' said Prof McGowan.

What's the biggest barrier we face?

‘The challenge is that whilst a lot of conservation action is already taking place, the threats to biodiversity are increasing at a greater rate.

'We need to get to grips with the five major drivers of biodiversity loss. It’s like constantly being in a hospital's Accident and Emergency department, moving from one serious issue to the next – the drivers of biodiversity loss have not been significantly reduced.

‘We are hoping that our research reinforces how vital such specific targets are in these final stages of the Framework’s negotiation.’

What's next for you?

‘My colleagues and I will be attending COP 15 this December. Here, we will witness the impact our research has had, see what happens with negotiations and, ultimately, what framework we will have in place for next decade.

‘We need to ensure that whatever is adopted we - as a global community - are fully engaged in achieving those targets.

‘We need to make it easier for countries to access our data and research, with practical toolkits for each country to utilise and adapt to their differing biodiversity needs, and cultural and social contexts.’

Is there hope?

‘Yes there is hope – it’s just a case of scaling-up the action needed.

'And, there are three things that give me such optimism.

‘Firstly, extinction rates would be three to four times higher than current levels if it wasn’t for conservation efforts since 1993. Also, there are very few species that we don’t know what to do with. Our research has also shown that we can reverse the decline of a species if we act now.

‘Secondly, the next generation. Students I teach have a lot more social and environmental awareness, and drive to make a difference. Awareness is vital and COP 15 will put this conversation back on the global agenda, invoking discussion and action.

‘Finally, there’s a lot of innovative research taking place around conservation and saving nature, including here at Newcastle. Together we can all make a difference.’


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