Young scientists eager to influence policy makers on biodiversity
We need to prioritise nature even if there are other conflicting interests – biodiversity is essential to all of us on the planet and ultimately to our health and wellbeing. The statement comes from Maria Blasi Romero, researcher in Biodiversity and Conservation at Lund University.
"I went to COP15 to learn about the processes and how to share my research with those who can make use of the results and have an impact”, says Maria Blasi Romero.
Maria Blasi Romero argues that science does not belong in an ivory tower. It needs to be shared so that society develops more knowledge and can contribute to better decision-making and policy. For her, this is a strong driver, and she brought her engagement to the UN Conference of the Parties on Biodiversity COP15, in Montreal in December 2022.
More than 15 000 participants gathered for almost two weeks to network, negotiate and provide input to a new global framework to prevent further loss of species and ecosystems. The crisis for biological diversity is well known today and the latest index from Living Planet Report shows that the populations of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have decreased by 70 percent since 1970.
Environmental policy needs data and modelling
A new global framework for biodiversity, GBF, was agreed upon at COP15, concluding in four state targets and twenty-three action targets to be met by 2030. In addition, decisions on indicators on implementation and financial plans were included.
“The environmental policy problems require data, but also strong evidence-based modelling to support decisions, and my research contributes towards this goal”, underlines Maria Blasi Romero.
It is increasingly common for researchers to develop and test explanations using models as tools for predicting how complex systems behave, such as the weather or ecosystems.
Maria Blasi Romero's research focuses on the modelling of pollinators in agricultural landscapes. Insect pollinators play a very important role in the ecosystem and in crop food production. However, these pollinators are declining in numbers worldwide, mainly due to agricultural intensification and climate change.
She is currently working on a project which investigates the extent to which the biodiversity conservation value of semi-natural grasslands is affected by the intensity of agricultural land use in surrounding landscapes.
“Agricultural production is one of the top drivers of loss of habitat. We need to dedicate land for biodiversity and to produce food, but of course land is a limited factor. We are exploring different ways on how we can have both”.
In the project, the researchers want to assess if, despite the negative effects of agricultural intensification, there can be an oasis of biodiversity with well managed grasslands in between. It is a project that combines data collected in the field, remote sensing, and modelling.
No plan – no impact
One of the goals in the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is that 30 percent of all land areas, inland waters and sea will be effectively conserved and managed by 2030. It is a good goal, according to Maria Blasi Romero, but she stresses that it needs to be more than a paper product.
Before starting with her doctoral studies, Maria Blasi Romero worked with the world database on protected areas for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. It became evident to her that many areas that were reported as protected only had this status on paper.
“Some of the protected areas lacked a protection plan, and although others had a plan, it was not followed. Compliance is a crucial part that needs to be solved if we want to achieve this global target”, says Maria Blasi Romero and continues: “It is also extremely important that the local communities and indigenous people are recognised, and that land is not taken from them.”
Bringing science and society closer
A problem for many researchers is that even if they would like to communicate their findings to the public and influence policy, they lack the platforms, the time and the incentive to do so. The current reward system for scientists to get grants is still to have many publications, not involve in the science-policy interface.
“I love doing science and want to know what is at stake at the international agenda, and what we can do as knowledge producers”, says Maria Blasi Romero. “I also want to bring the perspective of science and society into the master course lectures that I run”.
She is engaged in YESS, the Young Ecosystem Services Specialists. It is a global network of young researchers for exchanging ideas and improve possibilities for training and capacity building in relation to ecosystem service science and practice. The network also explores actual co-operation, innovative research and how to again experience in critical thinking and science communication.
“We had great discussions at COP15”, says Maria Blasi Romero, and emphasises the value of being on site to learn the right terminology and how to attend informal meetings. “Together with YESS, I organised two side events during the conference. Prior the event, we had online meetings to help each other navigate the COP-world, and once there, we met for the first time in person”.
Time to change how we value nature
The next COP on biodiversity will take place in 2024. The groups and networks will continue their discussions and exchange ideas for monitoring and implementation. The biodiversity crisis is closely linked to the climate crisis and interdisciplinary projects will probably increase.
Maria Blasi Romero thinks that the work must focus on much more than conservation – there needs to be actions targeting the driving forces behind biodiversity loss, including technology, economics, and governance.
“There is not much time and a lot to accomplish in the years to come, concludes Maria Blasi Romero. We should go for bold and realistic targets in these aspects. Because if we do not change how we consume and the way we live, we will not have a chance”.
Text: Marianne Loor.