Scientists Adapt ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ Adage to Protect Biodiversity

The “4R” framework aims to make conservation mainstream, from grassroots to governmental level.

Scientists have come together with a new 4 step programme to protect the world’s biodiversity over the next decade.

More than 22 research institutions worked together with the University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) to develop the “4Rs”, which builds on the well-known “reduce, reuse, recycle” adage. The new programme now calls for the following:

Refrain: Avoiding negative impacts on nature.

Reduce: Minimizing the harm caused by any unavoidable impacts.

Restore: Acting to quickly counteract any harm caused to nature.

Renew: Working to improve damaged ecosystems.

According to the researchers, key is that the “4 Steps” can be applied by any group or individual, from the national to the local level, in decision-making that affects eco-systems. Previously, such policies were designed specifically for conservation organisations.

“The upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting, and adoption of the new Global Biodiversity Framework, represent an opportunity to transform humanity’s relationship with nature,” the study states. “Restoring nature while meeting human needs requires a bold vision, including mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in society.”

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Photo by Kris Mikael Krister on Unsplash

Framework for the Future

Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. It was conceived as a practical tool for translating the protection of ecosystems into reality. However, it also focuses on people and the need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean living environment.

Successful projects include tackling small-scale illegal fishing in Chile, and natural resource use in smallholder farming communities in Papua New Guinea. That said, none of the 10 year CBD targets set in 2010 have been met. Now, with the next meeting to take place this year in Kunming, China, the ICCS are hoping their 4Rs will pave the way to setting practical and achievable goals. 

“This paper represents a real team effort, with authors from academia, business and government,” lead author and Oxford professor E.J. Milner-Gulland. “We’re excited to launch this idea and hope that it will be useful to many different groups as they work to realise the vision of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. It’s a huge challenge, with many different facets, and we hope that Four Steps for the Earth will provide an intuitive and flexible framework for tying all the threads together.”

whooping crane

Practice Makes Perfect

“This framework will, hopefully, present a turning point in the way institutions such as Oxford think about their biodiversity impact,” Oxford project coordinator Henry Grub explained. ”Our impacts cannot be overlooked because of the positive research we do – rather we hope the ‘4Rs’ will transform efforts to tackle the environmental impacts of the food we eat in canteens, the paper we put in printers, the land we build on, and much more.”

By taking the “4Rs” to next CBD meeting, the hope is to create targets that take onboard the incentives, pressures and challenges faced by individual decision-makers. Plus, multidisciplinary teams can be brought together brainstorm solutions.

As China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment, Mr. Huang Runqiu, explains,

“It is our hope that the Action Agenda can inspire all Parties and stakeholders to make contributions to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and create win-win results through collaboration. It is also our hope that all people, regardless of race, gender, age, background and identity can contribute the best of their abilities to protect biodiversity.”

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