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Natural History Museum develops biodiversity tracker to aid COP15 negotiators

In 2020, over two thirds of the UK is still used for agriculture and another 8% has been built on – leaving little room for nature. © Wallpaper Flare

The Natural History Museum has developed a Biodiversity Trends Explorer, to help negotiators at COP15 Convention on Biological diversity and other policymakers to track and compare the state of local ecosystem biodiversity among countries.

The tracker allows them to compare the impacts of different economic futures on nature in developed and developing countries over the coming decades.

Safe limit for humanity

It is a reaction to what the researchers say is a situation where the world has crashed through the ‘safe limit for humanity’ in regards biodiversity loss.

In its analysis the museum has revealed, for example, that the UK, with an average of only 53% of its biodiversity left is in the bottom 10% of the world’s countries, last in the G7 and a long way behind China.

The Natural History Museum researchers have also developed, the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which has revealed that:

  • global biodiversity intactness was just 75% in 2020 – when every square kilometre is given equal weight in calculations – and below 69% if areas are weighted by their ecological productivity
  • These are both significantly lower than the 90% average which the Planetary Boundaries framework sets as the ‘safe limit’ to prevent the world tipping into an ecological recession – a future in which ecosystems lose resilience and can no longer be relied on to meet our needs enough to avoid widespread shortages

Coordinated action

Natural History Museum researchers are calling for members of the pivotal COP meeting, which is taking place this week in Kunming, China, to take evidence-based, ambitious, coordinated action that recognises that different countries are starting from very different levels of biodiversity intactness.

“The negotiations at COP26 and COP15 can only be successful if the validity of both sides’ positions is clearly understood,” Natural History Museum Researcher Dr Adriana De Palma, said. “The Biodiversity Intactness Index shows this clearly, by providing each country with accurate information, not only on its recent biodiversity trend but also how much nature it has retained. Accessing the Biodiversity Intactness Index via our Biodiversity Trends Explorer tool can help negotiators reach equitable agreements.”

Rigorous approach

The BII she says is a rigorous approach to estimating biodiversity loss across an area using a combination of land use, ecosystem, species and population data to give a simple figure for ‘intactness’, that is, how much nature is left in a given area.

It is underpinned by the museum’s PREDICTS database – a global, open database (version 1 of which can be freely downloaded from the Museum’s data portal), which now comprises 4.7m data points, from more than 41,000 sites in more than 100 countries – a taxonomically representative set of 58,000 plant, animal and fungal species.

Five plausible socioeconomic futures predicted by BII 

The five plausible futures, mapped out by The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways an international team of climate scientists, economists and energy systems modellers suggest that reversing biodiversity’s downward trajectory will require ambitious, coordinated action.

In four of the five scenarios, in which the world does not come together to tackle both biodiversity loss and climate change seriously, levels of biodiversity continue to fall. In only one, ‘Taking the Green Road’, is this avoided:

  • Fossil-fuelled Development – Rapid use of non-renewable energy sources drives economic growth, betting everything on technology somehow preventing climate catastrophe.
  • Growing Inequality – inequalities grow both within and among countries, leading to a world economy that limits opportunities for the world’s poor. With environmental protection focused on richer countries, the global South sees rapid degradation
  • Regional rivalry – nationalism and protectionism prevent effective action on global environmental issues while also slowing economic and technological progress even in richer countries
  • Muddling through (Middle of the road) – this route sees global environmental efforts intensifying along their recent trajectory, taking some of the sting out of the ongoing degradation but not stopping it
  • Taking The Green Road – This route focuses efforts on a global ‘levelling up’, prioritising both human wellbeing and environmental stewardship, and so reducing inequality within and among countries

According to a report produced last year by NHM scientists and their collaborators actions such as Taking the Green Road may be able to bend the curve by 2050 but the scientists say delaying action by a decade could double the cost of enacting the necessary policies and jeopardise success.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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