Walt Reid accepts NatureServe Conservation Award

On April 16, 2013, NatureServe awarded Conservation and Science Program Director Walt Reid with the 2013 NatureServe Conservation Award at its annual Biodiversity Without Boundaries conference.  This honor recognizes his role leading the global initiative called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which provided a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems, the consequences of ecosystem change, and the options for policy and management responses. Read the press release and watch video of Walt’s acceptance speech. The following is an excerpt of his remarks.

I’m deeply honored to receive this award, and grateful to NatureServe and to all of you as conservation scientists and practitioners for this recognition.

It is particularly gratifying to receive an award like this from NatureServe and at this Biodiversity without Boundaries conference, because I see the work of the people at this meeting to be the real foundation for today’s science-based approach to conservation.

For conservation to succeed:

  • Our policies and management strategies need to be grounded in the very best scientific information regarding species and their distributions, and the ecology of species and ecosystems.
  • That information needs to be put in a form that can inform management and policy decisions and the managers; and,
  • Policy makers need to be actively engaged with the scientific community to ensure that the information really meets their needs

So to win in conservation, we need the best science.  We need the best policies.  And, we need the best management.  But most important, we need to bring these three elements together – in the words of one my colleagues at the Packard Foundation, Kai Lee, we need to “link knowledge with action”.

And that really was the goal of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, or MA for short:  To try to bring scientific knowledge about ecosystems and their services to bear on the needs of managers and policymakers.  And I can’t tell you how pleased I am that when we look back over the last ten years, it now seems clear that the MA has played an important role in doing just that.

Our issues of biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services are now being far better addressed in policy and management decision-making than ever before.  As a result, the potential for conservation science to lead to improved policy and management outcomes is greater now than ever before.

But as significant as this progress is, we all know that it is hardly sufficient when major drivers of change can so easily overwhelm any conservation gains.

If we want to protect biodiversity and ecosystems, and if we want to protect human well-being over the long term, these are the two critical problems that we need to solve:  climate change and food security.

Global greenhouse gas emission trajectories are tracking the most aggressive scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2006.  We now have virtually no chance of meeting a 450 ppm and two degree target.  Climate impacts will be very severe.

We need to double food production by 2050 to meet demands of 9 billion people in the face of climate change.  Agriculture and deforestation already account for one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and we need to stop agriculture expansion in order to reduce those emissions.

Looking ahead, I see that this nexus of agriculture, forests and climate to be one of the most important areas for the conservation community to focus of the next two decades.  The Holy Grail now is to figure out how we can increase agriculture productivity, without any more expansion of agriculture into natural habitats while reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture.  If we can do that, we’ve solved a quarter of the climate problem, met the basic needs of growing human populations, and averted a biodiversity crisis.  The science of biodiversity and ecosystems will need to be right at the center of any effort to address this challenge.

In closing, I want to recognize the fact that your work on conservation science and management, and protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services, could not be more important for the future not just of biodiversity and ecosystems, but for the future of humanity.

I thank you again for recognizing my small contribution to this.