Addressing biodiversity loss and climate change through integrated policy and public engagement

15 February 2024


Reported by Josephine Anselin, CSaP Policy Intern

Leading academic experts from the University of Cambridge, CSaP Policy Fellows and other relevant stakeholders came together to discuss the links between biodiversity loss and climate change in the context of policy making and public engagement.

The interdependence of biodiversity loss and climate change in the context of policy

The participants agreed that rather than being positioned as a separate problem, disconnected from the impacts of climate change, biodiversity needs to be recognised as an integral part of a wider system necessary for society to thrive in the face of the current planetary emergency.

A key aspect that emerged during the discussion was the importance of considering biodiversity as a vital infrastructure. This shift in thinking helps acknowledge the foundational role played by biodiversity across a range of areas necessary for societal success including economic prosperity, security, and human health. One participant illustrated this point through the example of Marine Protected Areas, explaining that “we are not just talking about parks in the sea. What we are talking about is an area that helps us take up our carbon, creates more jobs, and actually produces more food”. Participants cited the Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the Treasury, to highlight that even though the report had stressed the need to place nature’s value at the heart of economics, no serious policy action had yet been taken.

The discussion emphasised the need for policy decisions that consider climate change and biodiversity in combination rather than in isolation. The Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) was used as an example to highlight the lack of integration when it comes to climate change and biodiversity policy ambitions. In fact, while BNG was recognised by participants as a positive intervention in terms of addressing the loss of natural habitats, one participant highlighted that the BNG guidance does not factor in climate change.

Relationship between political ambition, public engagement and policy action

Another recurring theme of the roundtable was the gap between political ambition and concrete policy action and implementation. The discussion emphasised the need for commitments to be backed by concrete plans and credible action. However, it was also argued that bold targets may be powerful in terms of setting leadership direction, encouraging innovative thinking and creating a sense of urgency. There was recognition that, with the right architecture in place, a ‘do and learn’ approach could be more effective than dedicating significant resources to figuring out an exact pathway before starting to act. This point was emphasised by one participant who provided the uptake of renewables as an example in which “it’s gone so much further than people thought was possible because we’ve gone for it”.

Participants proposed that the gap between political ambition and action could be addressed through evidence-informed policy making. The discussion emphasised the importance of evidence as a tool for creating transparency by evaluating the effectiveness of ongoing political action. One participant suggested that public bodies needed to become “evaluators not just monitors”, implying a need to shift from generating data for the sole purpose of monitoring the decline of nature, towards a focus on using data to evaluate the impact of policy on the progress made towards achieving national net zero targets and other commitments.

While acknowledging the need for effective national policy, participants drew attention to the importance of recognising the potential of community-led projects. It was recognised that most citizens engage with government through their local councils and community actions, where their contributions create tangible results. Participants suggested an iterative approach in which existing local action could inform national policy and vice-versa.

The role of museums and other public institutions in engaging the public

Overall, participants agreed that effective engagement relied on inspiring a connection with nature. It was noted that more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities. Efforts led by public institutions to address people’s general disengagement with nature should take this statistic into account, for example, by introducing protected areas in the vicinity of cities (rather than just in remote location) and by creating more urban green spaces. One participant reflected that the disengagement from nature may be caused by a lack of fundamental knowledge about biodiversity and evolution among the general population.

Participants discussed the important role that institutions such as natural history museums can play in helping people realise that they are a part of nature. For example, they can create a neutral space in which to present evidence, raise awareness and open up debate about environmental issues. Given the trust that the public has in such institutions, participants also highlighted the opportunity for museums to inspire the publics by presenting evidence in novel, engaging ways.

Image by Ben Clayton on Unsplash.

Josephine Anselin

British Antarctic Survey, NERC