Measuring Success: The Path to Real Conservation Gains

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The past decade has seen significant but insufficient progress in protecting areas that support endangered species around the world, according to conservation officials. As governments prepare to discuss new conservation goals at the 2022 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Kunming, China, Walter Jetz and his colleagues at Yale argue that key scientific advances in measuring the success of conservation can foster better progress over the next decade.

Writing in a recent issue of the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, they argue that new ways of integrating global data can improve national efforts to estimate the number and location of endangered species and prevent extinctions.

In an interview, Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the environment at Yale and one of the chief architects of the revolutionary Map of Life, explains how these new tools, along with the combination of local observations and remote sensing, can support more effective conservation of global biodiversity.

What was the impact of the policies adopted at the last United Nations Biodiversity Summit in 2010?

Walter Jetz: Previous international commitments for biodiversity conservation – the Aichi 2020 Targets [adopted in 2010] – which, for example, stipulated the designation of 17% of the land and 10% of the oceans as protected areas, has enabled significant progress. But on the whole, the activities it sparked were insufficient. Many of the agreed targets have not been met and we continue to see a major decline in biodiversity.

It is widely recognized that this failure was largely due to a lack of linkages between targets and measures, i.e. putting robust measures of biodiversity status and trends alongside targets. in order to support and engage nations to reach them.

What are some of the shortcomings that need to be addressed at the 2022 summit?

Jetz: As parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) come together to endorse a new global biodiversity framework and specific targets for 2030, they will face the threats that contribute to species extinction. A draft target, for example, calls for the preservation of 30% of land and seas by 2030 through effective reserves and good area conservation. However, focusing only on the area preserved without precise measures of how they represent populations of species is at least inefficient and at worst unnecessary for biodiversity conservation.

So how do you track the progress of species conservation and prevent their extinction?

Jetz: Scientific advances, including those made at Yale at the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, now provide us with new globally comparable measures of the representation of biodiversity in conservation areas. The measurements we have developed in collaboration with international partners combine existing records with remote sensing data to map the detailed global distribution of species. This will allow us to assess whether a sufficiently large part of the population is in some form of protection. Instead of just measuring the increase in protected areas, say 30% of land, anyone can assess how these expansions translate into positive biodiversity outcomes, including an increase in the proportion of sufficiently protected species.

These innovative measurements are now made possible by strong growth in global remote sensing and data technologies. This information can help inform government policies and help anyone, including local and regional stakeholders, to use the best evidence possible in their conservation and resource management decisions.

Some of the new products and tools are available on the Map of Life website.

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