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Phil McGowan

16 August 2021, 4:14 UTC Share

Protecting global biodiversity through UK academic engagement

Conservation of biodiversity is one of the most prominent issues of our age. A major UN report published in September considered that humanity was at a crossroads in our relationship with nature, and that a transformational change is needed to ensure a safe and healthy planet.

Universities here in the UK lead the world in interdisciplinary conservation science; not only in research, but training and capacity-development too. Our density of excellence within UK conservation science is bolstered by a concentration of international conservation NGO headquarters, meaning that our research and training directly inform and build the capability of international conservation practice. Within the international academic landscape, our conservation science sector is particularly notable for its research innovation, knowledge exchange and real-world impact too.
Collectively, we therefore have enormous potential to increase our impact as the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity nears the end of negotiations on its new Global Biodiversity Framework that should outline ambitious goals and targets for the world’s biodiversity.

Introducing CASCADE
With all this in mind, now is the time for UK institutions to come together, to act and ensure our expertise and knowledge informs and support the new Global Biodiversity Framework in the decade to come. To that extent, researchers from Newcastle University have played a leading role in founding CASCADE, The Conservation and Sustainability Consortium of Academic Institutions.

Bringing together 23 UK universities and research institutions, CASCADE will co-create policy-focussed research syntheses that will allow government, business and NGOs to identify ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work’ within people-focussed biodiversity conservation.

Our aim is to become a multi-institution one-stop-shop for interdisciplinary work to tackle the loss of biodiversity. Bringing together expertise from the humanities and the natural and social sciences, we will provide a platform for the integrated interdisciplinary approach required to tackle the complex challenges posed by global environmental change.

Working with policymakers and experts
Although in its infancy, the crucial role of CASCADE was made clear in a recent virtual event we co-hosted with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Conservation.

At our International Conservation & Sustainability: The role of UK Higher Education on Monday 14th June (which you can watch here ), we welcomed distinguished panellists from around the world. These included high profile guests from the UN’s Convention Biological Diversity Secretariat, UN Environment, UN Development Programme, as well as government, industry, and academia. We were also delighted to welcome Theo Clarke MP, co-chair of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on International Conservation as our event Chair.

Together, we explored the role of UK higher education in addressing the challenges of the major biodiversity crisis we face. Our discussions focused on the significant role – and future contribution – of UK higher education in the areas of research, education, capacity development and in supporting policy and practice around the world.
This, however, is only the beginning – further action and dialogue with policymakers is essential. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to present the case for action to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity’s vision of Living in harmony with Nature by 2050, putting international conservation at the heart of the political agenda.
There is real potential for CASCADE to provide the necessary solutions to key policymakers to ensure we effectively and proactively tackle the biodiversity crisis. This consortium can – and must – play a leading role in this process and we share a strong commitment to international knowledge exchange and capacity-development for future generations of conservation scientists.

You can follow CASCADE on Twitter at @CASCADE_UKHEI.

Professor Phil McGowan is Professor of Conservation Science and Policy at Newcastle University. His research on critically endangered species spans countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Phil serves as Chair of the Species Survival Commission’s Task Force on Global Biodiversity Targets of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and has extensive experience in the interface between policy and science to develop strategies to safeguard species and their habitats.

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