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Biodiversity Revisited: New frontiers for biodiversity knowledge and action

A two-year collaboration involving nearly 300 people of 46 nationalities has culminated in a new agenda that charts a course for more effective biodiversity research and action for the next five years.

The agenda is the result of Biodiversity Revisited, an initiative conceived by the Luc Hoffmann Institute that has looked at why the world has failed to stop biodiversity loss and what large-scale changes are needed to sustain diverse and just futures for life on Earth. The initiative carried out the first comprehensive review of the concepts, research, policies and practices underpinning biodiversity conservation since the term emerged in the 1980s. 

The diversity of life that sustains humanity is being severely degraded by human action. This is leading to a deterioration in land, air and water quality, loss of natural ecosystems and widespread declines in populations of wild species. These changes are well documented and of existential significance to human societies, yet significant knowledge about the problem has not catalysed effective, broad-based action. Biodiversity has not, generally speaking, proved to be a compelling object for sufficient action to halt the degradation of the diversity of life on earth.

This research agenda is based on the premise that humanity is part of biodiversity and that we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. It urges the conservation community to think more broadly and draw on different perspectives, such as the political, legal, economic, social, cultural, and philosophical.

“This agenda is an invitation to consider a new way of thinking and acting in tackling interconnected challenges, whether local or global,” says Dame Georgina Mace, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at University College London. “We hope it inspires collaboration between different sectors of society and academia, and invite researchers, policy-makers and funders to take the agenda forward to radically change the way conservation is done.”

A strong interdisciplinary research agenda is critical at a time when global inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and further highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests have reinforced the need for justice to be at the centre of our efforts. With society undergoing seismic shifts in every aspect of life, holistic collaboration across sectors, disciplines and communities is more important than ever if we are to achieve sustainable futures.

The Biodiversity Revisited agenda aims to guide researchers, practitioners and decision-makers in reframing biodiversity research with a holistic approach that puts an emphasis on justice and the inclusion of a diversity of perspectives. 

Four main themes are covered encompassing a series of research questions designed to broaden thinking and collaboration, and encourage a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes ‘desirable’ futures. 

  • “Revisiting biodiversity narratives” addresses the entrenched concepts and narratives that have separated humans, cultures, economies and societies from nature. 
  • “Anthropocene, biodiversity, and culture” explores perspectives on the fundamental and evolving relationships between biodiversity and human cultures.
  • “Nature and economy” examines the existing economic and financial systems, which are some of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss.
  • “Enabling transformative biodiversity research and change” draws all of these together, focusing on what individuals and institutions can do to embrace and open up spaces for transformative change by expanding the knowledge, values and cultures utilised within biodiversity research. 

The agenda advocates changes in the way institutions fund, review and conduct research. These could involve adopting more flexible objectives, unlocking funding for inter- and transdisciplinary research and action, integrating professionals across different career stages, and creating equal opportunities for marginalised voices. While interdisciplinary research is increasing, there continues to be a lag in including non-academic voices in research projects, notably those from marginalised communities.

Download the Biodiversity Revisited research agenda.

Visit Biodiversity Revisited for more information about the initiative and its outputs, including Seeds of Change, a compilation of expert reviews and provocative essays that preceded this agenda.

Biodiversity Revisited was led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London

This initiative was generously supported by the NOMIS Foundation, MAVA Foundation, Foundation for Environmental Conservation and The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

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Fuller Seminar: How did justice end up at the heart of a conversation on biodiversity?

On 11 June, a panel of three emerging, cross-sectoral leaders came together to discuss the development of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative and the soon-to-be-released research and action agenda. This online seminar forms part of the WWF Fuller Science for Nature series, a regular forum for the conservation community to learn, discuss, network and inspire. The series seeks to advance the discussion of cutting edge research relating to critical topics in international conservation.

Coming at the end of the formal Biodiversity Revisited project, this session covered the two-year journey towards the forthcoming agenda. As part of this journey, the panellists were invited to share their scientific and practical expertise, as well as personal experiences of participating in this global, collaborative endeavour. Drawn from the wider initiative, which has been shaped by hundreds of experts from around the world, the panellists covered a wide range of topics related to the present and future of biodiversity research, practice, policy and broader societal issues. 

The group elaborated on how the interplay of dynamics between networks, people, diverse knowledge, and project design resulted in a process that could incorporate a range of topics and span complex questions of the relationships between people, nature, justice, economy, Indigenous people, history and power. The seminar dug into the overarching design of global collaboration, and responded to tough questions on issues such as transformative change, systems approaches to conservation, equity and justice, gender, food systems, policy and decolonising conservation. 

You can watch the full seminar below or on Vimeo.

The Biodiversity Revisited agenda will be published in early July 2020 and will help pave the way for other outputs, new research and exciting new collaborations that will emerge in the coming months. Join the conversation using #BiodiversityRevisited along with a global network of researchers and practitioners interested in the future of life on Earth. 

For more information, please contact:
Melanie Ryan, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute: melryan@wwfint.org

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The Luc Hoffmann Institute mobilises key actors to make African conservation more resilient post-COVID

The weaknesses of a system exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Covid-19 pandemic has created seemingly limitless shocks and hitherto inconceivable disruptions to the way society works: the near total suspension of global travel is one of these. Where global tourism revenues have been helping simultaneously to deliver biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, the pandemic has dramatically altered the trajectory of some national and many local economies. 

“Communities in Africa face a defining moment. They work hard, but are hardly noticed. Although they have kept the conservation world alive, now that disaster has struck they are all but invisible, and a major source of their income – wildlife tourism – has evaporated. Many are destitute, and may have little alternative but to turn to unsustainable and destructive extraction of wild resources to survive,” says Maxwell Gomera from the United Nations Environment Programme. 

Nature conservation in sub-Saharan Africa overly dependent on tourism:  
When tourism stops, so too do the benefits of conservation. Coexisting with wildlife has significant costs (think ‘human-wildlife conflict’) and the erosion of direct financial incentives arising from the business of wildlife tourism will often sharply tip the balance away from conservation. 

Forging paths to resilience for nature and people:  
On 20 May 2020, the Luc Hoffmann Institute virtually convened more than 75 participants, mostly from Africa, across different sectors, geographies and disciplines, to discuss a collaborative response to the COVID-19 impacts on communities and wildlife. 

“While there are many initiatives to raise money for wildlife areas, there has been less focus on supporting rural community stakeholders who are the custodians of the landscape and the wildlife on which this tourism depends. We think that a collaborative platform can address this shortcoming while also amplifying existing fundraising approaches,” suggested Luc Hoffmann Institute Director Jon Hutton. 

Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO at the African Leadership Group, asked “How can we build long-term business models? How do we think about diversified revenue streams that go beyond tourism and that are not dependent on donors? So that we can really think differently and show that when there is another crisis we have diversified revenue streams that can allow us to sustain our communities and the wildlife that they live with today.” 

During the meeting, a vision was set forth that would bring to bear an investment of at least USD one billion to support a three-step approach:

  1. deploying emergency relief funds to support local communities, civil society, and small-scale enterprises as compensation for lost jobs and revenues; 
  2. developing a 24-month stimulus package to support the physical and social infrastructure that makes wildlife tourism possible so that it can quickly resume once the pandemic is alleviated;
  3. sourcing promising longer-term measures to improve the resilience of African conservation strategies.

“We don’t want all the support to go to the hotels and the tourism operators, and forget the communities that are the stewards of this,” stressed Alice Ruhweza, Africa Region Director at WWF, “So I see an important role for the platform, bringing a collective voice to talk about these issues and to advocate better for nature – and nature beyond tourism – and to share knowledge with everyone outside of [the conservation] sector.” 

“We need new ways of thinking!” exhorted Gomera. “Rural African communities face an endless stream of obstacles to doing business. They are finding it difficult to build representative, community-based enterprises to deliver commercial outcomes. It is time to genuinely empower them to play a role in the development of wildlife economies, and that includes giving them rights to wildlife and resources, and greater equity and stake in related businesses. Saving wildlife is a common goal, but the cost of doing so cannot be borne by communities alone. We all have a responsibility and must commit to their cause.” 

Watch the video highlights from the 20 May 2020 convening:

Read more about the collaborative response here. If you would like to contribute to the further development of the response, please contact Jon Hutton, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute at jhutton@wwfint.org.

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Join the 11 June 2020 Fuller Seminar to hear the Biodiversity Revisited story!

‘What’s wrong with biodiversity?’ This was the initial question that developed into the two-year flagship thought leadership project, Biodiversity Revisited. Since early 2018, the initiative has brought together close to 300 experts from nearly 50 countries to completely rethink future research on biodiversity and conservation, starting with the very definition of the concept. Join us on 11 June 2020 for the Fuller Seminar when researchers and practitioners involved in the initiative will share inspiring stories from the project, along with their takes on the ideas and publications that have emerged during this journey.  

Hosted by WWF US, the Fuller Seminar is a series of meetings providing a platform for conservation ideas and is a part of the Kathryn Fuller Science Fund for Nature supporting innovative ideas in conservation science research. 

What’s in it for you? 

  • Learn new ways of thinking about biodiversity conservation science
  • Explore the systems thinking methodology applied to the project and how it can help your ideas 
  • Get inspired by three panelists from across the world who work in biodiversity conservation

How to take a part? 

  • Join the 75-minute virtual seminar on Thursday, 11 June 2020 at 4 PM EST

For more information, please contact:
Melanie Ryan, Head of Programme (ad-interim) at the Luc Hoffmann Institute: melryan@wwfint.org

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The Luc Hoffmann Institute launches refreshed website to attract further innovation for life on Earth

The Luc Hoffmann Institute is pleased to announce that it has launched its refreshed website, replacing the previous version that had been in place for several years. The institute team had been working over months to get it ready and were fortunate that all the effort that had gone into it previously allowed the institute to launch the site even in the midst of COVID-19. 

“The new website makes it simple for our visitors to find the information they need quickly and easily, and we have included key information on major projects in a visually-appealing timeline form, so people can stay up to date on what the institute is doing in the way of driving innovation in societal change for life on Earth,” says Luc Hoffmann Institute director Jon Hutton. 

The website has new features that will allow the institute to source innovative ideas for nature conservation from diverse audiences across the globe, and includes additional opportunities for visitors to get involved or provide feedback – which is vital for ongoing innovation. The institute has also built in other features to include more engaging content – such as video – and has search-engine-optimised the site to help innovators, investors, and collaborators find content more easily. 

Here are some pages visitors might enjoy exploring first:

Even before the new website went live, the Luc Hoffmann Institute website was receiving a steady stream of visitors (10,000 unique visitors per year) and the average session duration had risen 20% since last year. While it is too early to gather comparative figures, the institute hopes that the new, refreshed website will provide an even better experience for visitors and keep them engaged for a longer duration with our content and our opportunities to take part in innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute aims to be the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation of all life on Earth. It creates the conditions for new approaches to emerge, identify and mobilise the most promising innovators and ideas, and provides a flow of impactful, de-risked and exciting initiatives for investors. Its passionate and open-minded team is dedicated to driving societal change for nature and people to thrive together. Learn more at www.luchoffmanninstitute.org, connect with the institute on LinkedIn, or follow it on Twitter @LucHoffmannInst.

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Submit your idea or solution for the Capsule worldwide hackathon for the planet!

At the Luc Hoffmann Institute, we believe that innovation can stem from all geographies and all parts of society. No idea or innovator is too small, and no discipline is too remote to influence the well-being of life on Earth. That is why, in its quest for  innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the Luc Hoffmann Institute is proudly partnering with Capsule for “Capsule Hack”, a 2-day virtual hackathon event centered around solutions to climate and biodiversity issues.

In light of the current crisis, it is crucial, now more than ever, for us to identify and mobilise the most promising innovators and ideas for nature and people. If you have an idea, an existing project, or a possible solution worth exploring, then we invite you to join us! Are you an artist, historian, construction worker, poet, business person, farmer, doctor or just someone who is passionate about sustainability, including social justice and nature? Then this hackathon may be for you. We’ll be hacking ideas and finding solutions that fall under one of the following categories: art, cities, education, energy, food, and health.

What’s in it for you?

  • A chance to be paired with a mentor for your idea or solution, to grow your network, and be part of the special magic of hacking a better future together!
  • The hackathon will include art and musical performances, keynote speakers, dynamic panels, and even influencer-led yoga classes.
  • Following the hackathon, if your idea or project is selected by the Luc Hoffmann Institute, you could win the chance for your idea or project to be incubated and accelerated with us over the next year. 

How to take part:

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Reimagining biodiversity narratives and pandemics

A #BiodiversityRevisited thought piece by Gretchen Henderson

Five days before any coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Italy, I disembarked a plane in Milan, greeted by officials in hazmat suits who swiped passengers’ foreheads with a wand.

If our flight had been a fairy tale, religious parable, or science fiction, the action might have symbolized a protective blessing to ward off a curse. Unknown to me, my temperature was being checked. Though I had been following the outbreaks in China and Iran, Italy seemed far from the trouble.

My destination was the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center at Lake Como, where I was meeting colleagues to collaborate on a research agenda for biodiversity. “Biodiversity” represents life on Earth in all its forms and interactions. Our group was gathering in a crisis: why long evidence of climate change had not shifted human behavior to save species and cool our baking planet.

Coming from the arts and humanities, I was an outlier at our table of scientists and social scientists, including the Chief Scientist of the World Wildlife Fund, the Chair of the Red List of Threatened Species, and other established and emerging professionals from places diverse as Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Colombia. Like a fly buzzing on the wall, I was there to help question the role of narratives in shaping understandings of biodiversity, a reminder that the way we tell stories matters.

Now, a month after that trip, the university where I teach in Washington, DC, has shuttered and sent home students as we transition to a Virtual Learning Environment. My objective revising syllabi has been to keep everyone at the table, if they have limited technology, connecting from time zones far as South Korea, or other pressures. The real lessons will come not from staying with our course material but from staying together to integrate this moment into our unfolding, collective story.

How we tell stories around Covid-19 matters, because stories start to shape our actions and reactions.

It may seem trite to mention stories in a pandemic. But since I teach stories and will continue to do so virtually in coming weeks, it’s hard not to see patterns. A pandemic tends to follow the “outbreak narrative,” as Priscilla Wald defines in Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (2008). The “outbreak narrative” chronicles “a formulaic plot” that identifies an emerging infection, spreading through global networks, to the “epidemiological work that ends with its containment.”

As this pandemic grows, different places are sending dispatches from the future in real time. “Writing this from Italy, I am also writing to you from your own future,” wrote Ida Garibaldi in The Washington Post on March 17: “From our state of emergency.”

Pandemics cut across all lines. Comparisons have been made to Ebola and SARS, but we have not experienced a global pandemic in our lifetimes. Few among us know centenarians who may have survived the influenza epidemic, too young to remember its ravages. My family’s only recollection was from my great-grandfather, a pastor who spent seven days a week, upon weeks, officiating funerals because so many people died. Told in hindsight, history seems linear. Yet over a century ago, at early moments of the influenza epidemic, entangled histories still had multiple possible futures.

“This is a new chapter: a new beginning,” I wrote to students via email when our virtual transition was announced, asking them to notice narratives unfolding in our midst. “How do we deal with new circumstances in new ways? How do we not fall back on old and worn narrative strategies?” Essentially, how can we co-imagine this story while it is being told?

In Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016), Ursula Heise asks, “What affirmative visions of the future can the environmentalist movement offer, visions that are neither returns to an imagined pastoral past nor nightmares of future devastation meant to serve as ‘cautionary tales’?”

Pandemic narratives mark history: from Homer’s classical Iliad, to Boccaccio’s medieval Decameron, to Albert Camus’ twentieth-century The Plague, to recent “Indigenous Futurisms” (coined by Grace Dillon) that refer to speculative fictions by Indigenous writers and artists who imagine futures beyond colonialism’s past pandemics and ongoing cultural obliterations.

Since all life on this planet is entangled, causes of pandemics are multifold – more than the virus alone. They arise from other contributing causes, including biodiversity loss. Scientific projections anticipated a pandemic like Covid-19, presciently filmed as the fictional Contagion (2011). Like the climate crisis, this pandemic wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Quarantine provides opportunity for reflection on daily behaviors that we are giving up or adapting. What is essential; what falls away? World War II brought rationing and Victory Gardens. Mandated shifts from Covid-19 are cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. If we can make substantive changes during wartime or a pandemic, can we do the same for the climate crisis? Figuring out ways to come together in our current crisis, we may discover new ways to reimagine our entangled futures.

Related reading: Biodiversity Revisited

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The surprising new way to approach human-wildlife conflict: a new report

The way to solve human-wildlife conflict (HWC) may not be as straightforward as people think. Conflicts are fundamentally social and political issues between people and groups of people, but the language of conflict is often associated with negative interactions between wild animals and people, hence the rise of the common term ‘human-wildlife conflict’. 

As the human population grows and environmental issues such as climate change and habitat degradation escalate, negative interactions between wildlife and people are predicted to increase in both frequency and intensity. This in turn leads to conflicts between groups of people with different interests, values and power. Most often, the people directly affected by the depredations of wild animals have very little of the latter. Such conflicts are widespread, and in some cases seriously threaten the worldwide goals of biodiversity preservation and sustainable development. 

Who makes the decisions where there are negative interactions between wild animals and people? Who writes the rules, and who implements them? Who mediates and what is ‘good’ governance in these circumstances? 

There is a widespread acceptance in some parts of the conservation community that profound changes are required in the way  ‘human-wildlife conflict’ is understood, addressed, and managed. However, there are few visible expressions of this awareness being translated in a practical context. Duan Biggs of Griffith University in Australia is convinced that there are some simple tools that can make a significant difference – especially standards and best practice guidelines –  and the Luc Hoffmann Institute has been incubating his ideas so that they take shape and have impact. As part of this work the institute has been helping Duan and others unpack and analyse what is already going. The new report on ‘The state of knowledge and practice on human-wildlife conflicts’ arises from this analysis. Compiled by leading specialists in the field of HWC, it points the way to developing a standard to guide and improve approaches to HWC globally. 

The report addresses fundamental governance questions and uses existing research on relevant standards from natural resources management and wider conservation practice to advise on the factors to consider and the potential design for a new standard.


Read more about the Navigating Conflict over Iconic Wildlife initiative here. If you would like to contribute to the further development of a new global standard for human-wildlife conflict, please contact Jon Hutton, Director, Luc Hoffmann Institute at jhutton@wwfint.org

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Untapped opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs in the non-profit sector

There is a massive opportunity to disrupt the market for nature conservation.

I wrote about this a while back in a piece called “Wanted: disruptive entrepreneurs for conservation”. 

Recently, three separate events occurred in quick succession that highlighted this largely untapped potential:

  1. A family member emailed me to enquire about the best mechanism for him to voluntarily offset his family’s carbon emissions, frustrated by a lack of solution for a retail consumer like himself;
  2. A friend who works in a small tech start-up asked me how his company, which is finally starting to generate a small profit, could donate some of that directly to local “on-the-ground environmental or ecosystems projects” to benefit wildlife;
  3. After reading the Luc Hoffmann Institute analysis on ‘Diversifying local livelihoods while sustaining wildlife’, an African entrepreneur with a significant track record in forestry and energy management presented a business project to link, via a mobile platform, small carbon emitters with the local owners of well managed land to offset these directly.

What do these three events have in common? They point to a global and potentially massive market for the conservation of nature: directly linking those willing to pay for nature with the local communities that choose to conserve it, bypassing traditional intermediaries.

This market is growing for the farsighted and courageous innovators out there.

Up to now, there have been a number of efforts at making nature conservation competitive with other forms of economic activity. These include, among others, efforts at “going beyond GDP”, economic internalisation of externalities, or business assessment of triple bottom lines.

Yet there are real problems with these approaches. For one, they are complicated. They are also highly theoretical, unless there is a coercive rule, such as a regulation or law, to enforce their application. For another, they are value-laden. How much are animals such as tigers and lions worth? To whom? Finally, there is deep moral hazard to this approach. After all, if nature is given a price, it is easy to imagine that it could ultimately be bought with impunity by the richest 1%, not necessarily to the advantage of the global commons and local communities.

In light of the three recent events I mentioned above, among others, another far simpler approach became more evident: people are inherently willing to pay to keep (or even regenerate) nature, wildlife and ecosystems for no financial return at all. In other words, people want to conserve nature for its own sake, and are willing to pay for this. Not to buy it. Not to own it. Not to sell it. Not to profit from it. Only to do good. In this case, to ensure nature lives on for future generations while supporting local communities.

One indicator of this greater willingness is how much people (and taxpayers) give to conservation NGOs. A quick, non-rigorous survey of the main environmental NGOs’ annual reports points to a massive market, with more than USD 5 billion in donations annually. Donations include for example those from individuals, large grants by foundations, legacy giving, or public and private sector giving. A broader survey of all the giving, corporate social responsibility, government spending and the like which expect no direct financial return, would add significantly to this number.

This market for nature conservation also has significant growth potential. Research shows that the millennial generation is more likely to value impact than the previous baby-boomer generation. More millennials are willing to give to charity than their parents. Millennials are also set to cumulatively inherit a USD 30 to 68 trillion fortune (depending on the estimates) in the coming years in what is deemed the greatest wealth transfer in history. Yet the new generation also seeks transparency and direct, hands-on experience.

Tapping into this new kind of demand is an important opportunity for innovative entrepreneurs. Who can think of new business models that connect those willing to pay to conserve ecosystems and wildlife for no financial return, directly with those local communities who will make the economic choices that make most sense to them? The commodity being consumed is, simply, feeling good about doing good. Technology allows this. Social networks can amplify it.

We can save the natural world if we value it. What is really needed are new approaches and models to package the value of doing good in a convenient way for the new generation to buy into.

At the Luc Hoffmann Institute, we are looking to spur innovative business models for life on Earth. If you are working on this and want to link up ideas and networks, we’d like to be in touch. Email me at adellecker@wwfint.org.

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Seeds of Change – inspiring a new research agenda for life on Earth

What has gone wrong with nature conservation and how do we bring about transformative change to create a more sustainable future? Which types of knowledge, ethics, principles and actions are needed to reverse the decline of biodiversity? And given the urgency to act, how can we harness them to sustain a just and diverse future for life on Earth?

These are the questions underlying Seeds of Change – provocations for a new research agenda, a compilation of expert reviews and essays generated by the Biodiversity Revisited initiative, led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London. The essays offer diverse, innovative insights and perspectives on biodiversity conservation from around the world from the political, legal, economic and ecological to the moral, social, aesthetic and cultural.

Covering six themes: concepts, narratives, science, governance, systems and futures, the 30 essays and six reviews were written ahead of a Biodiversity Revisited symposium held in Vienna in September 2019 which brought together 70 researchers and practitioners from 29 countries.

Biodiversity Revisited is the first extensive review of the biodiversity concept since the term was coined in the 1980s, looking at why it has not been compelling enough to stop the degradation of the diversity of life on Earth. Seeds of Change underpins the debate about how different types of research practices, knowledge and processes could play a more effective role in setting the foundations and directions for a biodiverse world by 2030.

The initiative aims to raise new awareness about biodiversity and how to conserve it, and will culminate in a five-year research and action agenda.

Download Seeds of Change