On 22 May, the international community celebrated Biodiversity Day 2022 and the idea of a shared future for all life on Earth. A recurrent appointment promoted by the Secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the event this year intended to build momentum for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework that will be officially adopted at the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the CBD later this year in Kunming, China. Nature Sustainability joins calls to support biodiversity protection, and continues to highlight research and opinion that contribute knowledge and insights to find solutions for people and nature to coexist harmoniously. As an example, in this issue, an Article by Antonelli and colleagues presents a tool that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence for systematic biodiversity conservation planning. The proposed approach, based on biodiversity monitoring, optimizes a conservation policy that aims to, for example, minimize species loss within the constraints of a limited financial budget. In essence, the method allows the quantification of the trade-off between the costs and benefits of area and biodiversity protection. Using both simulated and empirical data, the authors show how their proposed approach works, and the extent to which it can help meet conservation targets reliably.

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The role of human activity in driving biodiversity loss is increasingly reported in the news. Discussions about the conundrum of biodiversity conservation–human development are no longer confined to academic circles. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework is much awaited by experts, practitioners as well as decision-makers. However, and despite increasing awareness about the perils of biodiversity loss, it is concerning that the framework has yet to be ratified and adopted. Initially due to be held in October 2020 and postponed at least twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP15 to the CBD was eventually split into two sessions, one that was held virtually in October 2021 and the second scheduled to be held later this year in-person in China. At the time of writing this Editorial, no date has been formally announced yet.

The framework is expected to build on the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were ratified in 2010 and meant to be achieved by 2020. We wrote about the post-2020 framework in an Editorial published in March 2021 (Nat. Sustain. 4, 189; 2021). We reflected on the lack of sufficient progress towards the 2020 targets, as well as on the way the ongoing discussions about the new set of targets, meant to be achieved by 2030, didn’t seem to inspire sufficient confidence among scholars who were worried that lessons might not have been learned from past mistakes. Inspired by the enthusiasm around Biodiversity Day 2022, we want to reflect on where things are today with the post-2020 framework and, more generally, on why societal progress towards environmentally related goals remains unsatisfactory.

A first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was released by the Secretariat to the CBD in July 2021. We read that the framework aims to spur transformative actions by governments and all social actors, and to facilitate implementation via actions primarily at the national level. The need for transformative actions will resonate with most of our readers. Indeed, we highlighted that point in our March Editorial last year, and elsewhere in the journal. It is hard to know what this means in reality, let alone how to achieve it. The CBD, as well as other similar multilateral platforms, use engaging and inspiring narratives, and make sure such narratives reflect the current state of the debate within and outside academia. However, at this point, the world needs more than narratives, and success ultimately hinges on political and collective commitment to set the right priorities. Implementation is mentioned many times throughout the draft — the framework is meant to facilitate the implementation of adequate actions that will allow countries to achieve the targets. Decision-makers will surely need that facilitation.

With a focus on stimulating transformative actions and facilitating implementation, the framework will include 21 new action-oriented targets to be achieved by 2030; if ratified later this year as promised, countries will have just over seven years to meet the targets. This seems at best a very ambitious commitment.

The framework is explicitly presented as complementary to and in support of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. It makes sense: biodiversity protection and sustainable development are intertwined. This point surely brings together most of our diverse readers and contributors. In April, we published an Article by Guerrero-Pineda and colleagues that focuses on the case of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement that led to the expansion of agriculture into biodiversity-rich forests (C. Guerrero-Pineda et al. Nat. Sustain. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00871-2; 2022). With a quantitative method, the authors related conservation investments to national biodiversity outcomes by building a prioritization map that can help policymakers target conservation actions in regions where the returns to investment in conservation are high and the economic impacts, on communities whose livelihood depends on agriculture, are low. Overall, this work presents another way for policymakers to navigate the trade-offs between the costs and benefits of biodiversity protection.

Biodiversity experts and policymakers will continue to wait for the long overdue outcome of COP15 to the CBD. But history has taught us that despite inspirational narratives and growing public awareness, both informed by scientific evidence, societal progress towards sustainability has been, and still is, too slow. A more in-depth and shared understanding of why this is the case can help find constructive ways to bring down barriers and to enable the transformative actions so many are calling for.