The panel of speakers, moderator and the organisers of the third virtual session of the ACB 2020.

Reversing biodiversity loss can only be achieved through transformative change, according to experts and policy-makers. But what is transformative change, and how should we do it?

The latest virtual session of the Third ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity (ACB 2020) titled Transformative Change and Innovations in Biodiversity Conservation held on 26 November gathered a panel of experts to discuss what transformative change towards biodiversity conservation means from their perspective, as well as the science and policy interface it may entail. The virtual session, hosted by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA) Malaysia is the third of a four-part series of virtual sessions that serve as a platform for the exchange of perspectives on addressing biodiversity issues in the region.

Based on the updated text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework circulated in August 2020, there has to be a clearer articulation of what transformative change is and what action it will require. Through this webinar, the ASEAN Member States are presented guiding examples of the concrete steps they may need to take in order to realise the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature.

“Transformative change risks becoming an empty mantra without substantive change and action,” ACB Executive Director Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim said in her message delivered by Dr. Mary Kristerie Baleva, ACB External Relations, and Policy Specialist. We need to have “a broader and deeper understanding of how transformative change can induce concrete actions in the Region and innovate to put biodiversity front and centre in our regional initiatives.”

The integrity of ecosystems is continually threatened and biodiversity is declining alarmingly. With around one million species threatened with extinction, biodiversity loss drivers such as massive land-use change and climate change are accelerating at unprecedented levels in the past 50 years, according to the recent global assessment released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

IPBES asserts that despite this decline there is still time to make a difference if transformative change is taken up now at every level from local to global, nature can still be conserved, restored, and used sustainably.

“Transformative change is not a standard recipe or a long list of actions to check — it depends on each territory’s dynamics, from the local to the global,” IPBES Chair Ana Maria Hernandez-Salgar said. “Decision-makers together with the society, based on the best scientific knowledge, will have to recognise what has to be changed, what are the successful examples to follow and what are the new patterns that lead to a sustainable future,” she said.

Innovation for biodiversity

Innovations help jumpstart the long-term process of transformative change.

In Indonesia, scientists and researchers are actively involved in establishing the Essential Ecosystem Areas (EEAs), an innovation of the country’s conservation scheme. Dr. Ruliyana Susanti, a researcher from the Research Center for Biology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, described EEAs as important ecosystems, such as biodiversity corridors, wetlands and biodiversity parks that are outside of protected areas, mostly in occupied or privately-owned locations.

“Data and information generation for scientific-based policy supports various processes, from planning and establishment, decision or designation and management,” Dr. Susanti said.

Among the innovations that Indonesia has employed, according to Dr. Susanti, is the social media application Monmang, which analyses and interprets data based on selected parameters. The app, which is currently being improved, can be utilised by students and other members of the academe for observation, and thereby increasing participation of other stakeholders.

Dr. Susanti said “transformative change requires the involvement of scientists, not only biodiversity scientists but also social scientists and citizen scientists.”

The support coming from the Indonesian government and its legal instruments back research and the EEAs’ inclusion to the Indonesian Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan (IBSAP) to make it an important national target and priority.

Government support

Government support to prioritise biodiversity conservation was likewise instrumental in the innovation shared by Professor Ma Keping, Deputy Director General and Secretary General, Biodiversity Committee of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Professor Ma said as China prepares for its hosting of the 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) next year “there is a clear political signal and guidance through various mandates and legal instruments that promote biodiversity mainstreaming efforts and green development.”

He said China adheres to the Ecological Civilization philosophy, a framework that promotes a whole-of-society approach and involves various stakeholders from the national to the local level.

China also implements the Ecological Conservation Redlining (ECR) project, which sets clear baselines for environmental protection.

The ECR approach takes into consideration the different functions of biodiversity areas and their susceptibilities to challenges such as desertification and soil salinisation. Through the ECR delimitation process, scientific assessment is used to balance conservation and development.

“The ECR approach can be maximised to conserve more threatened species or ecosystems,” said Professor Ma.

China’s ECR approach and Indonesia’s EEA conservation scheme are two examples of transformative change translated into concrete national actions that take stock and recognise multi-stakeholder contributions to biodiversity conservation.

Dr. Zaw Naing, Coordinating Board Member of the ASEAN Institute for Green Economy lauded these initiatives during the virtual session and encouraged the ASEAN Member States to share similar policy instruments and vision and to look into potential collaboration with China and IPBES for conservation innovations.

“Transformative change means doing things differently that will ultimately alter the norms,” Dr. Khairul Naim Adham, Undersecretary of the Biodiversity Management Division, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Malaysia said during his intervention. “It should be strategic, although we could start with small initiatives.” For Malaysia, a number of initiatives that could help bring about transformative change include concrete legislative frameworks and policies such as incentivising biodiversity protection, strengthening law enforcement with a multi-stakeholder approach, and fortifying transboundary cooperation.

The virtual session was moderated by Dr. Titiek Setyawati, Senior Researcher, from the Forestry and Environmental Research Development and Innovation Agency, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia. Dr. Titiek succinctly summed up the discussions into three key points: the importance of articulating transformative change in various actions to make significant changes; collaboration and knowledge exchange among the AMS on the innovative ways of achieving transformative change; and the important roles of key sectors in ensuring ASEAN’s sustainability transition towards the 2050 vision.

The webinar was participated by more than 180 AMS representatives, students, members of the academe and representatives from the indigenous peoples and local communities among others.

The full recording of the virtual session 3 may be accessed at