Sir David Attenborough part of Cambridge discussion on biodiversity

PUBLISHED: 17:18 19 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:32 19 April 2018

Sir David Attenborough giving his closing speech at the public lecture in Cambridge. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Sir David Attenborough giving his closing speech at the public lecture in Cambridge. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Tobias Smith

The veteran broadcaster joined world experts in calling for action for nature at the building in the city which bears his name

Dr Cristiana Pasca Palmer. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation InitiativeDr Cristiana Pasca Palmer. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

By 2020, the end of the current UN Decade on Biodiversity, the world’s biodiversity is set to have declined by two-thirds, an unprecedented rate of destruction that jeopardises not only the amazing variety of life on Earth, but the prospects for human development and well-being.

A public lecture and panel discussion, entitled ‘Setting a new post-2020 biodiversity agenda – the communications challenge’, was held on April 12 at the University of Cambridge, with Sir David Attenborough in attendance, to address the problem and discuss what can be done to reverse this worrying decline.

Joining Sir David was the head of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and a panel made up of government, business and civil society to discuss how to mobilise global action to tackle what is said to be the greatest threat to humanity: the biodiversity crisis.

The panel discussion was one of three events being hosted by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) from April 10-13, led by BirdLife International, IUCN, the RSPB, the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre and academics from the university.

The panel discussion. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation InitiativeThe panel discussion. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

In 2020, the world’s governments will meet in Beijing to agree a new framework for global action to tackle the biodiversity crisis over the next decade. It is vital that a strong biodiversity conservation strategy be agreed and that momentum is built within the public and private sectors to inspire a movement for action.

Millions of viewers around the world watched the BBC’s landmark series Blue Planet II in 2017, which took an unflinching look at the impact of human activity on marine life and saw Sir David delivering a rallying cry to do more to protect the environment. “The future of all life now depends on us,” the renowned wildlife expert said in his closing speech of the final episode.

The recent IPBES (Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) meeting in Colombia highlighted the threats to biodiversity, concluding that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.

Sitting on the panel at the Babbage Lecture Theatre at the David Attenborough Building on April 12 were Helen Crowley, head of sustainable sourcing innovation at Paris-based global luxury group Kering; Prudence Tangham Galega, secretary general (permanent secretary) of the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development in Cameroon; Patricia Zurita, CEO at BirdLife International; Alice Jay, campaign director at global activist site, Avaaz; and Cristiana Pasca Palmer, executive director of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The panel discussion. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation InitiativeThe panel discussion. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

The all-female panel was moderated by Richard Black, director at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit.

The discussion, watched by Sir David who was sitting in the front row, involved talk on how to transform the complexity surrounding biodiversity and the need to protect the natural world, as well as how to galvanise governments into making it a main issue – something that many people are now clamouring for.

It was suggested that biodiversity as a term is complicated and can often leave members of the general public perplexed, meaning that it’s often necessary to put it in simple terms so that everyone can understand the enormity of the problems we face.

Other questions raised, among the panel and from audience members, included how best to promote biodiversity in developing countries and how we can focus on biodiversity in places where the illegal wildlife trade is rife.

Sir David Attenborough closing the proceedings. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation InitiativeSir David Attenborough closing the proceedings. Picture: Toby Smith/Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Afterwards, Dr Pasca Palmer felt the presentation had gone well, telling the Cambridge Independent: “Today was a great, great meeting because we wanted to bring together a group of conservationists, scientists, media people and international organisations to have a really engaging conversation on what we’re going to do about nature and biodiversity after 2020.

“In the UN and the biodiversity convention we have to put out a new strategic framework, and it’s about what this strategic framework should look like and what the message is that we have to give; how we engage people’s hearts and minds – and pockets – for a real transformation.”

Dr Pasca Palmer added: “Biodiversity is a word that sounds very scientific, it sounds very complex, but the fact is that biodiversity and ecosystem is what supports life on the planet, and we need to get that message across to people and politicians.”

Dr Pasca Palmer travels around the world spreading the importance of biodiversity and stresses that it’s also important to reach out to the non-conservation community and the business sector. She says that we have a “very narrow window of opportunity to really avoid catastrophe”, concluding: “What I’m taking from here and from other meetings is that people are awakening to the fact that we need to collaborate more.

“There are reasons for hope indeed. There is tremendous potential out there, but we just need to find the right keys to unlock this potential – and in a very short time.”

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