'Nature is in crisis, so humanity is in crisis, and we all need to do more to help’ so began RSGS CEO Mike Robinson at a recently convened, meeting of more than 50 geographical societies from all over the world in advance of COP15 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. In attendance were 50 participants from 30 different countries, coming together to explore the ways in which the geographical community can address the vital issue of the biodiversity crises.

Robinson continued, ‘Some big complex global problems need co-ordination and collaboration at the global scale, and geographers have a really strong role to play in solving and informing these sorts of issues. We all know nature is in crises, and that we not only fundamentally rely on nature for the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe, but we as humans are a part of nature too, and in protecting it we are also protecting ourselves, but we are only going to be successful of we work together more.’

Hosted by the RSGS working with the International Geographical Union, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the Royal Geographical Society with IBG, the event followed a successful previous gathering held in June 2021, where delegates discussed their responses to the climate emergency and the Sustainable Development Goals (read more). The first conference resulted in the launch of a joint declaration of Global Geographical Societies, pledging to redouble efforts to help deliver a better tomorrow, endorse the need for action on the climate and biodiversity crises, and call for world leaders to place the protection of nature at the centre of the world’s economics and politics. The joint declaration was signed by around 80 global geographical societies and organisations from 58 countries including USA, Scotland, Russia, China, Canada, South Africa, and India (read more).

The recent online gathering heard provocations from several international speakers considering the biodiversity crises ahead of COP15 including Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biodiversity who addressed the conference and spoke of the importance of creating and maintaining mechanisms to protect, conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, and our potential to influence as a large gathering of societies ‘I thank the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for bringing together representatives of the international geographical community to discuss biodiversity-related issues.’ Said Mrema, ‘Accurate geographical information is crucial to understanding key biodiversity areas. It is also critical for effectively designing and implementing conservation and restoration activities. In her closing remarks to the gathering she stated, ‘we need a high level of willingness, cooperation, and concerted efforts by all sectors and by all members of society to achieve a sustainable future with a focus on intergenerational fairness and legacy.’

Elizabeth Mrema Speaking at the Gathering

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad spoke about how we often mistakenly view ourselves as separate from nature, and how this perceived divide must be challenged, a fact that has long been obvious to indigenous people. Hindou further commented that you cannot pick and choose 30 percent of nature to save, because it is a system and we are all part of it, ‘Nature is every one of us and we must protect it to protect ourselves. If you only choose to save 30 percent which 70 percent do you choose to sacrifice, especially when it is all connected?’

Jojo Mehta, Executive Director of Stop Ecocide International spoke about the importance of recognising environmental destruction as an international crime, ‘scientific knowledge and goodwill alone are essential, but they are not enough to catalyse change at the rate required’ said Mehta. ‘The shifts that are required to fulfil the framework and to support the Convention on Biological Diversity are going to be difficult if not impossible to implement in time without a suitable international criminal law framework in place.’

Provocations were also given by Professor Yadvinder Malhi from the University of Oxford, talking about the significance of the subject of geography in addressing the biodiversity crises, being uniquely well-placed to consider the issue through multiple disciplines and scales. And Professor Andrés Guhl, from the University of the Andes questioned how we bridge the divide between humans and nature, and make people more aware of this divide.

RGS Director Joe Smith summed up the event ‘This gathering of the world’s geographical bodies offered a powerful reminder of the immense contribution that this community makes to understanding the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss, and promoting effective actions that can take us to a better place. It also reminded us all of the need to redouble our efforts, and to keep drawing attention to the interconnections across major global issues’

The final report records the big ideas from provocations and discussions, and outlines key recommendations to encourage further action on the biodiversity crisis.