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Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda: what pathway for zero net biodiversity loss in metropolitan France?

A plan to protect biodiversity and advance the Sustainable Development Goals through widespread societal transformations

In October 2019, twenty scientists and practitioners convened in Tours, France with a dedicated goal: build a pathway toward achieving zero net biodiversity loss in metropolitan France by 2030. Their conclusions, along with countless hours of work outside of the workshop, are presented in the report “Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda: What pathway for zero net loss of biodiversity in metropolitan France?”

English brief

Report brief (English)

French brief

Report brief (French)

Cover image for Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda report (English)

Full report (English)

Report cover (French)

Full report (French)

Attended by a cross-disciplinary group of researchers and practitioners, the Future Earth-led workshop aimed to build a scenario that would achieve the 2030 goal, analyze the scenario’s implications for biodiversity and other sustainability challenges, and examine the societal transformations necessary to reach the objective of zero net loss. 

The project is part of Future Earth’s initiative Science-Based Pathways for Sustainability, which focuses on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 objectives agreed upon by all UN member nations in 2015 and intended to be achieved by 2030. The Pathways initiative promotes innovative and integrated approaches to achieving SDGs and aims to further societal understanding of socio-ecological systems to inform public debate and policy. Protecting biodiversity, the central goal of this scenario, is Sustainable Development Goal 15. 

To begin, the organized experts identified and analyzed three main sectors that drive biodiversity erosion in France: agriculture, energy, and urban systems. All three cause significant habitat degradation, pollution, and climate change. Workshop participants examined potential shifts towards more sustainable practices in these three areas in order to halt biodiversity loss. 

Transitioning food, urban, and energy systems to be more sustainable are all individual SDGs. Goal 2, “Zero Hunger”, involves providing safe and nutritious food to all and developing resilient agriculture. Goal 7 is “Affordable and Clean Energy”, representing a shift toward renewable energy sources. “Sustainable Cities and Communities” is Goal 11, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of cities. 

Making sustainable improvements to agricultural, urban, and energy practices is crucial but not sufficient to meet the 2030 goal of zero net loss. The transitions must be combined with key conservation zones and new forest management practices for the goal to be met. 

Effects of the transitions in the three major sectors were farther reaching than just biodiversity conservation. Agroecological, urban, and energy shifts also have implications for other SDGs, specifically those about freshwater, inequalities, climate, and oceans (SDGs 6, 10, 13, and 14). These effects are largely positive: reduced pesticide use improves freshwater quality, urban greening contributes to carbon storage, declining fossil fuel use lessens marine pollution by plastic waste and maritime transport, and well-developed public transportation allows more universal access to socialization and services. 

The list of potential positive effects is extensive, but although transitions in food, urban, and energy systems further SDGs on biodiversity, freshwater ecosystems, oceans, climate, and inequalities, they would only become fully meaningful if adopted at least on a pan-European spatial scale. They are also not without trade-offs. For example, large-scale implementation of clean energy would limit carbon emissions and slow climate change, but may drive habitat destruction as new facilities are built or additional sources of biomass are required. The development of urban agriculture or green spaces may increase water stress; offshore wind energy may cause marine pollution. The report acknowledges these trade-offs and poses further research questions to explore potential solutions for reducing such dilemmas.

After a thorough investigation of the myriad impacts of energy, agroecological, and urban transitions, the report examines the societal implications of the path towards actually implementing change. Underscoring all discussions of SDGs, sustainable change, and policy options is the assumption that society can make the large-scale, fast-paced change required to meet the 2030 goal. Major shifts would need to be made to eating habits, energy usage, residential patterns, and agricultural models. Systemically, our modes of development are often an obstacle toward this fast-paced change. 

Inequalities are another powerful obstacle to the needed sustainable change. If healthy food, energy-efficient homes, or sustainable modes of transportation are inhibitively expensive for most people, such transitions to meet the 2030 goal cannot occur. 

Competing development goals may also inhibit the rapid necessary change. Protecting agricultural land may be best for biodiversity conservation, but local decision-makers may choose instead to develop the land to attract residents, create jobs, and bolster their economy. 

Overall, the Biodiversity report stresses that integrated and participatory approaches to problem-solving are imperative to sustainable development because they strengthen the role of scientific knowledge in societal transformations. Decision-makers on all levels must grasp the complexity and often conflictual nature of our modes of development. 

Integrated approaches also highlight how context-dependent sustainability challenges are— homogenization will be less effective than learning from the “living environment” and its specific spatial and temporal scales. Finally, engaging stakeholders in exploring sustainable pathways, as this project did, is imperative. Learning from stakeholders’ expertise and diversity of values and visions for the future ensures that the knowledge produced fits contextually and is valuable to communities.