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A new research paper led by the University of Oxford has listed four key steps that every individual can take to help lighten our footprint on the planet. Taking a holistic approach to environmental action, the experts outline “4Rs” – refrain, reduce, restore and renew – to change our behaviour and relationship with nature.
Leading researchers and experts have advised all of us to strive towards the United Nations biodiversity goal to “live in harmony with nature” by taking four key steps in a new report. The paper, published in the journal One Earth, was written by researchers from 22 institutions and led by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science at the University of Oxford.
The key steps are distinctly separated into four “Rs”, which involves refraining from having a negative impact on nature as far as possible, reducing our damage to the environment when our impacts cannot be avoided, restoring any damage we have done, and finally, to invest renewing and revitalising the natural world.
“We’re excited to launch this idea and hope that it will be useful to many different groups,” said lead author and biodiversity expert Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland.
Describing the U.N. biodiversity goal as a “huge challenge”, Milner-Gulland added that she hopes the recommendations made in the new paper “will provide an intuitive and flexible framework for tying all the threads together.”
We’re excited to launch this idea and hope that it will be useful to many different groups.Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, Lead Author, University of Oxford
The holistic approach taken by the researchers in the 4R framework is dubbed a “Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy”, whereby all positive and negative impacts on nature that are carried out by different actors and with varying degrees of scale can be all accounted for.
“It is focused on identifying actions which contribute towards an aspirational goal, such as leaving nature in a better state than we found it in,” wrote the authors in a press release published by the University of Oxford.
While the steps appear to be simplistic and overarching, the paper reiterates that these are only going to be meaningful if they are matched with real, concrete action across every sector in society.
“Most human activity involves natural resources. As such, conservation actions need to move beyond a niche interest of ‘conservationists’, to be incorporated into the everyday actions and decisions of governments, businesses and individuals,” they said, noting that this approach can be especially useful for states to plan, monitor and enact policies that would improve biodiversity as the world begins to rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic.
Scientists have emphasised the urgency for action on biodiversity loss, with recent reports suggesting that we are on track for a bleak future unless drastic measures are taken immediately. In October 2020, the Swiss Re index on the state of ten primary ecosystem services on Earth showed that a fifth of all countries globally are now on the verge of ecosystem collapse.
Our impacts cannot be overlooked because of the positive research we do – rather we hope the ‘4Rs’ will transform efforts to tackle the environmental impacts of the food we eat in canteens, the paper we put in printers, the land we build on, and much more.Henry Grub, Project Coordinator, University of Oxford
Biodiversity not only supports human livelihoods, food systems and our health, it also underpins the global economy, with over half of the world’s GDP – equal to US$41.7 trillion – dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services, the report found.
In the latest prognosis of the state of our planet, scientists from Stanford University, UCLA and Flinders University in Australia, described our future as “ghastly”, if we do not quickly turn around our trajectory of unsustainable consumption, depletion of natural resources and population growth.
Speaking about the potential for the 4Rs in this new paper to ignite action, Henry Grub, project coordinator at the University of Oxford, said: “This framework will, hopefully, present a turning point in the way institutions such as Oxford think about their biodiversity impact.”
“Our impacts cannot be overlooked because of the positive research we do – rather we hope the ‘4Rs’ will transform efforts to tackle the environmental impacts of the food we eat in canteens, the paper we put in printers, the land we build on, and much more.”
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.