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Global biodiversity is in dramatic decline. The general public appears to equate sustainable development with biodiversity conservation and environmental protection, whereas the international policy discourse treats sustainable development as little more than traditional economic development. This gap between public perception of what sustainable development entails and its translation into formal policy goals is an important barrier to mobilizing the public and critical financial support for meeting global biodiversity conservation objectives. This contribution argues that the goal of nature and biodiversity conservation must be much more clearly distinguished from the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) than is currently the case.
The term ‘sustainable development’ has become widely used since it was popularized through the 1992 Rio UN Conference on Environment and Development. The UN SDGs adopted in 2015 further reinforce the normative centrality of the concept. Yet, the extent to which sustainable development covers nature and biodiversity conservation depends on how it is defined. A better understanding of how the public in different countries assesses the value of local and global biodiversity is crucial for building support for financing the vision to live ‘in harmony with nature by 2050’ currently under negotiation in the Convention on Biodiversity. This review essay discusses four distinct definitions of sustainable development, and considers how these different conceptualizations are used by political actors to serve particular interests. It then describes how this discourse has unfolded in international agreements related to sustainable development and biodiversity. The analysis shows that the prevalent economic cost–benefit approach used to value ecosystem services to make a case for conservation cannot resolve trade-off decisions between short-term economic and long-term societal interests. What is needed is a broad discourse about the ethical and cultural dimensions of biodiversity as a global heritage at the highest political level.
Social media abstract
The goal of global biodiversity conservation must be more clearly distinguished from the 2015 SDGs economic objectives.
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