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Engaging with the science and politics of biodiversity futures: a literature review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Carina Wyborn*
Affiliation:
Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN Conservation Centre, Switzerland Institute for Water Futures, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Elena Louder
Affiliation:
School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, USA
Mike Harfoot
Affiliation:
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK
Samantha Hill
Affiliation:
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK
*
Author for Correspondence: Dr Carina Wyborn, Email: carina.wyborn@anu.edu

Summary

Future global environmental change will have a significant impact on biodiversity through the intersecting forces of climate change, urbanization, human population growth, overexploitation, and pollution. This presents a fundamental challenge to conservation approaches, which seek to conserve past or current assemblages of species or ecosystems in situ. This review canvases diverse approaches to biodiversity futures, including social science scholarship on the Anthropocene and futures thinking alongside models and scenarios from the biophysical science community. It argues that charting biodiversity futures requires processes that must include broad sections of academia and the conservation community to ask what desirable futures look like, and for whom. These efforts confront political and philosophical questions about levels of acceptable loss, and how trade-offs can be made in ways that address the injustices in the distribution of costs and benefits across and within human and non-human life forms. As such, this review proposes that charting biodiversity futures is inherently normative and political. Drawing on diverse scholarship united under a banner of ‘futures thinking’ this review presents an array of methods, approaches and concepts that provide a foundation from which to consider research and decision-making that enables action in the context of contested and uncertain biodiversity futures.

Type
Subject Review
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Foundation for Environmental Conservation

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