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”We must think nature with and not against people” (Interview)

Background

Dr Andrea Franke has been a postdoctoral researcher at the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg (HIFMB) since 2020. The fisheries biologist uses trans- and interdisciplinary approaches to address societal challenges in protecting and conserving the world's oceans. She investigates how humans influence biodiversity in ecosystems, especially that of fish.

Dr Ute Jacob is responsible for networking research and nature conservation at HIFMB. As lead author for the chapter "Status and Trends in Nature", she was significantly involved in the 2019 IPBES report on the global state of biodiversity. The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is an organisation of the United Nations and provides scientific policy advice, comparable to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Contact

Dr. Andrea Franke

Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg

Dr. Ute Jacob

Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg

 

  • Corals in the Great Barreer Reef, Australia.

    Coral reefs like Flynn Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast, are among the most species-rich ecosystems across the globe. However, climate change, overfishing and eutrophication pose a serious threat to the reefs: in the past 150 years, the number of living corals in reefs has declined by half, and almost a third of all tropical reefs worldwide are severely damaged. Photo: Toby Hudson, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA-3.0

Biodiversity and climate protection go hand in hand

A new treaty for the protection and sustainable use of nature is the goal of the UN Biodiversity Conference currently taking place in Montréal, Canada. Andrea Franke and Ute Jacob (HIFMB) on global challenges and local solutions.

A new treaty for the protection and sustainable use of nature - that is the goal of the UN Biodiversity Conference currently taking place in Montréal, Canada. In this interview, fisheries biologist Andrea Franke and marine conservation expert Ute Jacob, both from the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg (HIFMB), talk about global challenges and ways to find local solutions.

In the summer of 1992, the first countries signed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as one out of three Rio Conventions. Now, more than 30 years later, high-ranking political representatives are convening in Montréal, Canada, for the second part of the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference – also with a view to finally making progress in the protection of biodiversity. For many of the political goals have not been achieved, and the extinction of species continues unabated. Why is this?

Andrea Franke: One major problem is, of course, climate change – and in the oceans specifically, the rising water temperature. This is a major contributor to changes in biodiversity. Coral bleaching, which can lead to the death of corals, is a well-known example. This is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) last year jointly urgently stressed how closely linked climate change and biodiversity loss are. This means that to stop biodiversity loss, we should focus above all on achieving the 1.5 degrees target in order to keep climate change to a minimum.

Across the globe, ecosystems, including marine ecosystems, have already been so heavily impacted by humans that the question now is: What is the goal of nature conservation?

Ute Jacob: Here, too, it's important not to think of the biodiversity crisis and climate change separately, but together, in order to avoid conflicting goals. Species-rich, intact ecosystems secure our existence. Right now, not only individual species but entire ecosystems are under severe strain. To reverse this trend and restore the structure and function of ecosystems, we need to have common, clearly defined goals by 2030. For example, there is growing evidence of how much sense it makes to preserve existing marine protected areas and create new ones, because they sequester and store carbon and thus help to mitigate climate change. Biodiversity and climate protection go hand in hand.

Andrea Franke: In the European Union, for example, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive defines a "Good Environmental Status" as a goal. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 "Life Below Water" talks of a healthy ocean as a goal. But unfortunately, what a healthy ocean looks like or how ocean health can be measured is not entirely clear. Therefore, the question of how to achieve these goals remains open. I believe this can only be done through social change, a transformation towards more sustainable use of all resources. But such transformation processes are difficult and complex. In a way, this is a journey into the unknown – we want to move to a place where we have never been before.

And what could this journey into the unknown look like?

Andrea Franke: To make changes at the local level, for example, we believe that "living labs" are a good idea. In these labs, researchers come together with participants from various areas relevant to the context in question from the very beginning – people from government authorities, industry, NGOs, or simply people who earn their living through the sea or at sea ­– and together they develop a shared mission. Then all these stakeholders exchange knowledge and work together on solutions that lead to a more sustainable use of the oceans.

How does this process work?

Andrea Franke: The participants take a three-step approach: first of all, they jointly develop research questions and formulate a goal, such as how to better manage a particular fishery. In the next step, the participants exchange knowledge and experiment with potential solutions – all working together. It's important that they listen to each other and communicate, and that the transfer of knowledge is not one-sided. The goal is to come up with solutions that can actually be implemented – for instance a very concrete management plan for a specific fish species in a specific region. The participants can then try it out and see whether the whole thing works. This means that there's a joint evaluation of the results, which is the third step. If problems emerge or the situation changes in the meantime, the process can be started all over again. This is an iterative feedback process that has hardly ever been used in marine environment protection so far.

In which cases is such an approach useful?

In our view, living labs are a promising method for marine area planning. Because in the process of deciding how to best use a specific marine area or coastal strip, different groups with diverging interests often clash – so it's important to bring them together right from the start. Another example is fisheries management.  Here, researchers propose annual catch quotas for commercially exploited fish species on the basis of scientific stock assessments. However, these quotas are not always implemented at the political level; sometimes the agreed quotas turn out to be too high. When ecologically important species are overfished, the entire food web in the sea is affected. This means that fisheries and their management are not just important for the respective fish species, but for the biodiversity of the oceans as a whole. In the process of jointly developing sustainable solutions, living labs can create the necessary framework to improve the dialogue between scientists, politicians and fishermen, for example.

So at the local level, living labs can be helpful in finding mutually beneficial solutions to concrete problems. But to come back to the UN Biodiversity Conference – the global level: What would be a promising outcome here in your view?

Ute Jacob: There is a widespread consensus that placing at least 30 percent of the oceans under protection by 2030 is the minimum required to stem biodiversity loss and achieve the climate targets. The challenges we face in implementing this "30 by 30" goal include the urgently needed financial aid for developing countries, the high population density and the lack of uniform national and international legal standards. If we at least manage to establish protected areas in those parts of the ocean that are most important for biodiversity and ecosystem services, the 30 by 30 goal will have a far greater impact. I hope that the international community will be able to reach a global consensus on this at the conference.

Interview: Constanze Böttcher

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