New paper: Scenarios and models to support global conservation targets

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Paper authors: Emily Nicholson, Elizabeth Fulton, Thomas M. Brooks, Ryan Blanchard, Paul Leadley, Jean Paul Metzger, Karel Mokany, Simone Stevenson, Brendan A. Wintle, Skipton N.C. Woolley, Megan Barnes, James E.M. Watson, Simon Ferrier

Journal: Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Blog author: Emily Nicholson & Simone Stevenson

Citation: Nicholson, E., Fulton, E.A., Brooks, T.M., Blanchard, R., Leadley, P., Metzger, J.P., Mokany, K., Stevenson, S., Wintle, B.A., Woolley, S.N.C., Barnes, M., Watson, J.E.M. & Ferrier, S. (2018) Scenarios and models to support global conservation targetsTrends in Ecology and Evolution.

Video Abstract: Emily Nicholson explains how models and scenarios can improve the development and implementation of international biodiversity targets


The world is experiencing a rapid and widespread loss of nature. The Aichi Targets are a set of goals intended to secure the future of biodiversity, agreed upon by the international community in 2010.  International targets act as powerful guides to, and motivators of, conservation action.

The current Aichi Targets are set to expire in 2020, but biodiversity loss continues to be a significant international challenge, and plans are underway to formulate the next generation of biodiversity targets.  A poor understanding of the potential consequences of conservation targets, the interactions between targets, and the actions needed to achieve them can lead to unexpectedly poor conservation outcomes, inefficient actions, and lost opportunities for meeting commitments.

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Scenarios and models offer a powerful opportunity to improve the setting and implementation of targets, but there is limited evidence of such use beyond their role in global agenda-setting. In this new paper, Nicholson and colleagues aimed to create a guide that clearly sets out the potential uses of models and scenarios in this capacity, framed within the four stages of the policy cycle.

Scenarios are depictions of possible futures and alternative actions that could influence progress toward conservation targets.

Models are simplified representations of a system (such as biodiversity) and can describe or predict conservation outcomes under different possible scenarios.

The paper explains that together, models and scenarios can project the impacts of different actions and even targets on biodiversity, providing information necessary for decision-makers to understand potential advantages and disadvantages of different options.  In summary, their potential roles in each stage of the policy cycle include:

  1. Agenda-setting: identifying the problem(s), developing a compelling case for change supported by multiple lines of evidence, and motivating the need for action, and therefore targets;
  2. Formulation: designing the overarching concept or goal of each target, it’s phrasing, quantification, and associated indicators for measuring progress;
  3. Implementation: taking an international target to local action, including interpreting the global targets, devising and evaluating policies and on-ground actions for achieving them;
  4. Review: assessing the status and trends in indicators of progress towards targets, and evaluating the effectiveness of policies and actions aimed at achieving targets.
Figure 1: The Roles of Scenarios and Models in the Review, Formulation, and Implementation of Conservation Targets. The application of models and scenarios to Aichi Target 12 (on preventing species extinctions) at various stages of the policy cycle are shown in (B–E) (Taken from Nicholson et al. 2018).

These tools can be applied to individual targets, but also to identify interactions between different targets.  Interactions include both synergies and trade-offs in the targets themselves, and in the actions governments undertake to meet them.

The mission of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 is to “take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity”, a vision that is likely to carry into the post-2020 agenda. This paper makes the case for using models and scenarios to evaluate the actions needed to halt biodiversity loss, thus ensuring international targets are always explicitly linked back to the overarching goal.


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