The global community has less than two years to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set for 2020, yet public awareness of biodiversity issues is still relatively low.

Experts spoke of the need to raise awareness of how important biodiversity and ecosystems are at an interview with The Japan Times during the seventh global conference of the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) held in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, that came to a close earlier this month.

“In some targets we have made more progress than others … but I don’t think we have made as much (progress on) targets based on awareness,” said Eduardo Brondizio, a professor at Indiana University who spoke at the conference as co-chair of a global assessment on biodiversity to be published by the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are 20 targets that were adopted as part of the revised Strategic Plan for Biodiversity during the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) held in 2010. They lay down tangible goals that involved parties should aim to achieve by 2020 in order to maintain the planet’s biodiversity.

These targets include slowing down the loss of natural habitats, preventing the extinction of endangered species and implementing biodiversity strategies on a national level.

Some targets, such as aiming to secure protected areas for 17 percent of inland waters and 10 percent of marine areas, look like they’re on track to be achieved by 2020.

However, there is still much to do. The global vertebrate population on average is on its way to be 67 percent smaller by 2020 in comparison to 1970 levels unless communities reverse the trend with urgent action, according to data published in 2016 by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London.

Biodiversity in general also hasn’t reached the same level of public awareness as issues such as climate change.

In Japan, about 52 percent of respondents claimed they had never heard of the term “biodiversity,” as opposed to some 17 percent who understood what the term meant, according to a survey by the government on environmental issues conducted in 2014. Approximately 30 percent claimed they had heard of the word but did not know what it meant.

The same survey also found that 87.4 percent of respondents had never heard of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The study was based on responses from 1,834 Japanese nationals over the age of 20.

A survey conducted in the U.K. also shed light on how biodiversity is an issue that is lesser-known than climate change.

Forty-four percent of respondents declared they had at least a fair amount of knowledge on climate change, as opposed to 18 percent for biodiversity, according to a survey conducted by the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2011, based on 1,769 interviews carried out in England.

On the other hand, 31 percent knew nothing of or had ever heard of biodiversity, as opposed to 2 percent of those who didn’t know about climate change.

“The media has an important role to play. I think there has been growing attention but it’s still not an issue that is considered as important by the media,” said Brondizio, adding that the biodiversity community needs to improve communication with the public and “the media needs to help.”

That said, biodiversity and climate change are topics that should not be discussed separately, explained Kazuhiko Takeuchi, a professor at the University of Tokyo Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science who was also the keynote speaker of the conference.

It is important to “integrate the climate change discussion with the biodiversity discussion,” Takeuchi told The Japan Times.

“Biodiversity is a very important part of the discussion” when it comes to adapting to the changing climate, but “the two communities are unfortunately separated,” he added.

So what are some changes that people can make to raise biodiversity awareness?

“I think the effort that everyone has been trying to make is to make visible … how much we depend on nature,” Brondizio said.

“When you open your tap for water, that’s almost a political gesture in the sense that (you) depend on ecosystems that are managed far away to produce that water … but our separation from nature and urbanization created a false sense of independence from nature,” he added.

Even if you live in a high-rise apartment in Tokyo, “you’re extremely dependent on nature. It’s just that it’s invisible to you. That’s why awareness is important,” he continued.

IPSI is a global partnership created in 2010 that currently counts over 200 organizations as its members. It focuses on creating a harmonious relationship between local communities and nature, as exemplified in Japanese “satoyama” — agricultural landscapes where biodiversity are maintained sustainably through co-dependence between local people and nature.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.