The Conservation Hierarchy can help to integrate conservation objectives and socio-economic objectives to aid smart development, which can achieve better outcomes for nature and people, and transcend scale from national-level targets to local-level actions, through appropriate plans, policies and guidelines.
This structure is useful for National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plans (NBSAP) and Voluntary National Commitments (VNCs), which are over and above the contents of the NBSAPs. It can also aid with mainstreaming conservation concerns with other national objectives.
Land use planning
This generic example demonstrates how the Conservation Hierarchy can transcend scale from national-level targets to local-level actions, through appropriate plans, policies and guidelines for land use.
Our case study on the State of Victoria’s native vegetation management framework provides a real-world example of where the principles of the Conservation Hierarchy have been applied to land use policy in order to achieve net gain for native vegetation. Importantly, the Conservation Hierarchy provides a common framework to connect individual, projects and landscape-scale actions with global biodiversity goals.
Choosing pathways that are less damaging to nature can be costly for humans.
For example, fisheries management often seeks to achieve ‘triple-bottom-line’ outcomes from marine resources, which can achieve environmental, social and economic objectives. However, establishing a marine reserve has opportunity costs for fishers, or mandating use of by-catch reduction technology may cause loss of target catch. This result in trade-offs between economic returns, social welfare and biodiversity conservation. What is more, global fish stocks and the fisheries that exploit them are highly diverse. Fisheries management ranges from highly regulated data-rich systems such as the Antarctic toothfish fishery in the Ross Sea, to open-access small-scale data-poor fisheries in many low-income nations.
This generic example demonstrates how countries can set different national targets, to suit their national contexts and development pathways, which sum to achieve an overarching net global target for sustainable use of marine resources.
- Country 1 has set their national target at a level lower than the necessary national contribution towards a global goal. This is taken on by nations that are set to exceed their national contribution targets (e.g. Country 2), but which may have had large historical impacts on global fish stocks by fishing in areas outside their exclusive economic zone.
- Country 2 puts in place strong preventative and compensatory management measures, with additional conservation actions (ACAs), which contribute to offsetting their historical impact on marine resources.
- Country 3 sits somewhere between Countries 1 and 2. They ensure their national target is sufficient for the overarching global goal, with an ambitious sustainable fisheries management plan, but they do not have additional contributions to offset nations that fail to meet their own targets.
By thinking in net terms the conservation hierarchy can allow for tailored approaches to actions at each step based on constraints, such as what is biophysically possible – according to available natural assets or technology and what is societally acceptable – based human values and socio-economic context.
As such, nations with higher levels of resources, capacity and impacts can set more ambitious targets, and support less-regulated lower-capacity nations to achieve more feasible targets. This can allow for simultaneous achievement of biodiversity objectives under the CBD and human sustainable development goals.
Waste & pollution
Plastic pollution is a threat to biodiversity, as it can cause direct species mortality through entanglement and ingestion, and degrade ecosystems and habitats. Here we demonstrate a generic example of how three different countries might approach a global pollution target for plastic. The Conservation Hierarchy allows countries to flexibly set targets and undertake actions which suit the context of each country (note the hierarchy would need to be used for different types of pollutants as well).
Country 1, which has had low previous impact but projects this to rise dramatically in the future, favours a more interventionist approach by banning plastics and implementing taxes to control its pollution levels.
Country 2, which has the opposite situation with high existing impact which is naturally reducing, favours a more market-based approach through education and technology, while undertaking clean-up of existing pollution. By transparently committing to actions through the hierarchy, it is more easily understood if interventions are likely to reach the desired target of reducing plastic pollution to safe levels. For example, Country 3’s commitment to ban plastic straws would not be considered enough for a meaningful contribution towards the overall target.
This shows how the conservation hierarchy structure can translate NBSAPs in to clear actions and requirements. Highlighting where there is a lack of ambition in setting commitments, such as in Country 3, can also help to identify barriers and constraints such as lack of political will or capacity. Monitoring of actions and outcomes can be done through the CBD processes such as National Reports, and countries can be assisted to achieve targets, as in this case where Country 2 funds clean-up operations in Country 3 as part of their offsetting.