REVIEW | Conservation 3.0

In April 2017, Professor Rosaleen Duffy attended a meeting at the Oxford Martin School to discuss the future direction of biodiversity conservation - Conservation 3.0. Here, she reflects on the discussions and debates of the day.

In April 2017, Professor Rosaleen Duffy attended a meeting at the Oxford Martin School to discuss the future direction of biodiversity conservation – Conservation 3.0. Here, she reflects on the discussions and debates of the day. 

I’m usually involved in challenging and criticizing conservation practices: the processes of exclusion and dispossession which often accompany the establishment and maintenance of protected areas, neoliberal approaches to conservation (notably payments for ecosystem services and Natural Capital accounting), and most recently, the dangers of militarisation. So when I was invited to be part of ‘blue skies’ meeting on the future of conservation, I welcomed the opportunity to listen and to discuss current conservation thinking.

The event was ambitiously called the Biodiversity 3.0 kick off meeting, convened by Mark Halle (IISD), Achim Steiner (Oxford Martin School) and Jon Hutton (Luc Hoffmann Institute). 
 They had invited a wide range of usual and unusual suspects to have a first go at generating a radical rethink of current conservation.  We were presented with the contention that we need a new vision and agenda for the future: Conservation 3.0. The organisers identified the shortcomings of Conservation 1.0 (from the late 19th century to 1980 which focused on setting aside areas of land and saving species); and Conservation 2.0 from 1980 (which was characterised by greater engagement with social and economic processes of development).

During the day were asked to address three core questions

  1. The WHY conservation isn’t working?
  2. The WHAT might Conservation 3.0 look like?
  3. The HOW? Process of change? What is needed? What can this group do?

Of course we had differences in approach and disagreements over the best way forward. But it was fascinating to be involved in such a wide-ranging conversation.

First off was: do we need more or better of the same, or a fundamental rethink of current approaches to conservation?. There was a lot of support in the room for ‘rip it up and start again’. Which then, of course raised the question: if we imagine we have a blank slate what would conservation look like? A few themes struck me – these are not fully representative of the views at the meeting – wait for the write up by the conveners!

Nature Doesn’t Need Half

There was some scepticism about the recent call for ‘Nature Needs Half’, instead we need to think of nature as a whole planetary system – the entire biosphere – including human communities, to have any chance of success in the future. Our discussions revolved around the ways conservation has often unhelpfully relied on separating out humans and nature  – protected areas are the most obvious expression of this.

Nature is more than economic value

For me it was surprising that several participants were so critical of the ways that definitions of value in conservation had become narrowed to economic valuation – via natural capital, payments for ecosystem services, carbon trading and so on. I have long been a critic of ‘neoliberal nature’, arguing that we cannot fix the problems produced by capitalist logics with more of the same. I’m not suggesting that market –based approaches are unremittingly negative – I’m with Noel Castree on this one – there can be benefits, but we need to examine how and why those benefits are allocated.  This is why approaches such as environmental justice, and the environmentalism of the poor (advocated by Joan Martinez-Alier) and degrowth (see work by Giorgos Kallis) are so important. They provide us with the tools to think though genuine alternatives.

Conservation is not a separate ‘thing’

We had a lot of discussion around the ways that conservation cannot be seen as separate from political power structures, climate change, agriculture, urbanisation, consumption patterns, fisheries, freshwater, energy production and mega infrastructure projects. Conservation exists within a wider political economy and we ignore this at our peril. For example we need to understand how the growth in meat production affects biodiversity, or how it links in to climate change and water consumption. We touched on the growth of vegetarianism and veganism, but were given a timely reminder that meat production in the global South for local consumption does not carry the same sorts of implications for the environment. This neatly brings me to the need to understand the effects of inequality between and within societies – we should not assume that those illegally hunting wildlife in the global South do not care about nature. They do.

Conservation 3.0 is already here

At the end of the day we were reminded that Conservation 3.0 is already happening in many parts of the world – new technological innovations are changing conservation practices, indigenous peoples are successfully protecting their lands, new actors such as the security sector are engaging with conservation.

I think its fair to say we agreed that conservation was too reliant on the natural sciences for its inspiration. We need a wider range of voices in designing conservation for the future – marginalised communities, citizen scientists, environmental justice activists, farmers, pastoralists, indigenous communities, artists, philosophers, film makers, to name a few. If we don’t bring in new voices then it is more difficult to develop new and innovative approaches, which traditional conservationists might thoroughly disapprove of.  I don’t envy the convenors the task of writing up our discussions, especially as this was just the start…….


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