Reflections on Biodiversity Post-2010 Conference

27 October 2010 | News story

CEC member Tina Trampuš reports on the conference 'Biodiversity post-2010: Biodiversity in a changing world' held 9 September in Ghent, Belgium. Tina showcased several success stories from Europe in her presentation 'Changing Consumer Behavior'.

Are we willing to change?

The conference Biodiversity post-2010: Biodiversity in a changing world  made me wonder if we recognize the need for personal change in this changing world. I want to share some impressions from the conference, which was held in Ghent, Belgium, and organized by the Flemish Government during the EU presidency.

One of the more interesting presentations was Branding Biodiversity by Ed Gillespie (Futerra Communications); it was relaxed and funny with a good chance for triggering change in the attitude of a listener.

My presentation, Changing Consumer Behavior, received good feedback. I was invited to present some success stories at the workshop 'Biodiversity in an urbanizing Europe', one of the three at the conference. Quite a few people found it interesting; for some it was even shocking or provocative. The case studies were about consumer behavior related to a network of ponds, an endangered flower and date mussels. Jan Verheeke (Environment and Nature Council of Flanders) summed it up in a thought that might be perceived as a paradox: When you want to promote biodiversity, don't talk about it!

In my observation, many professionals in nature conservation (scientists, national government and international officers) are thinking quite narrowly when communication is in question. Is the need for personal change and different approaches recognized among people at high levels? Do we follow the 'rule' Think globally, act locally and change personally!? Do we see that more of us should go beyond passing information and raising awareness to really triggering the change?

During coffee breaks, a few people expressed concerns about the difficulty of communicating biodiversity. I recommended the CEPA Toolkit and also Randy Olmson's book Don't be such a scientist. I think this book is just perfect for a university professor that looked really lost and wants to improve in communicating such a complicated theme as biodiversity.

Jaqueline McGlade (EEA) in her presentation mentioned how people prefer the word NATURE (instead of biodiversity) and I couldn't agree more. Is the nature conservation community pushing word biodiversity too much? I believe for the general public, the word 'nature' works great. For scientists and politicians, the use of word biodiversity is probably better (as it is in the text of the Convention). I argued in small talks over coffee that even if people are aware of biodiversity, the understanding of it can still be very diverse. Different groups might even agree on the term but have a different understanding of the object (e.g. what are the important species) or they might not agree on conservation needs or solutions.

The need for accurate data, and more of it, was expressed quite often during the conference. A colleague from the Ministry agreed that this is definitely true for policy makers and decision makers. I argued on the other hand that for communication to the general public and local level, we have more than enough data on species.

McGlade also mentioned that there is a map of Europe made of butterflies on the front of EEA building. A small survey showed that people passing by did not understand why an environmental agency would have biodiversity on the building. The link between 'environment' and 'biodiversity' is just not obvious to the average citizen. People's disconnection from nature was mentioned often as a challenge for communicating biodiversity. I would add that the connection of highly-positioned people to local level people and the general public might be even more crucial for reaching nature conservation goals.

What will stay with me is the passion of Joke Schauvliege (Flemish Minister for Environment, Nature and Culture) that was seen in her talks and during presentation of Message from Ghent, the document that was sent to Nagoya (CBD COP10). She mentioned that a newspaper recently described biodiversity as a new "buzz word". Julia Marton-Lefèvre (IUCN Director General) said that we should speak to the community outside the conference room, outside our offices -- and we should do it in a simple, passionate and understandable way. I thank her for talking the talk and some other people from the conference for doing the same. Hopefully others will follow and change their approach towards effective ways of communication so we can buzz together around the changing world.

For more informaction, contact Tina Trampuš, IUCN CEC member (Slovenia), at tina.trampus@zrsvn.si