The goal of our Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Europe Section Blog is to share stories and relevant information about activities going on within our section and more broadly in the conservation community. Stories and articles shared on our blog should not be taken as an official position or statement of SCB or SCB Europe Section. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Reflections at the end of 2020 - a year of unexpected loss

Personally, I’d like to characterize year 2020 as the year of the unexpected. To exemplify from my country of residence: while the covid-19 was known only from China and Italy, the national epidemiologist predicted that the virus would probably not reach or affect Sweden. What subsequently happened was totally unexpected by the majority of citizens. On the other hand, focusing on what had already been communicated from relevant science, Vineet Menachery et al. (2016 in PNAS) warned that a SARS-like virus seemed poised for human emergence.

An analogy in political responsiveness has for even longer been observed in another subject area: climate change. As The New York Times reported on James Hansen’s testimony to the US Senate on June 23, 1988:
‘Until now, scientists have been cautious about attributing rising global temperatures of recent years to the predicted global warming caused by pollutants in the atmosphere, known as the ''greenhouse effect.'' But today Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.’ ‘If Dr. Hansen and other scientists are correct, then humans, by burning of fossil fuels and other activities, have altered the global climate in a manner that will affect life on earth for centuries to come.’

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) both date back to the Rio Summit in 1992. At that summit meeting, 12-yr-old Severn Suzuki held a speech about the importance of conserving nature and biodiversity also for future generations of humans – ‘intergenerational justice’ as she put it 20 years later at the Rio+20 summit in 2012 She then referred to a recently published paper in Nature, likely Barnosky et al. (2012; in which scientists warned that evidence indicated that Earth and humanity are approaching a planetary-scale state shift in the biosphere. That was 8½ years ago. The CBD’s 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook ( is quite clear in that not much and too little has happened to reach the Aichi Targets by 2020 as agreed by the 196 CBD Parties and to prevent further significant biodiversity loss. Similar conclusions were made in March 2020 by the IPCC regarding interventions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and climate change. - Listen to the scientists! is a clear message from both Severn Suzuki and, more recently, Greta Thunberg. In view of the inertia and lack of implementation of interventions, almost as if the tasks with warm hand are handed over to the young and forthcoming generations, Greta also used a stronger expression: - How dare you?

Many scientists (e.g. Ripple et al. 2017; have already communicated and warned. Even though I probably am a bit more “biodiversity biased” than Johan Rockström (, another fellow Swedish citizen, I also still believe that truly using the best science-based knowledge, science-based education and transformative change, can make it possible for humanity to accomplish the goals and targets of the above conventions.

Concluding the year in this Europe Section blog, in light of the above, I want to highlight and honour the outstanding contributions in science-policy and science-society communication & interfacing by two scientists whom we unexpectedly and sadly lost during 2020: professors Michael E. Soulé – “the Father of Conservation Biology” – and Dame Georgina Mace – “the Mother of the SCB Sections” and in particular of the Europe Section.

Michael Soulé was one of the founders of the Conservation Biology discipline, and died on June 17, 2020. Wonderful obituaries have been written by, for example, by Stuart Pimm “The Soul(é) of Conservation” and by Michael’s former PhD students M. Sanjayan, K.R. Crooks and L.S. Mills in Nature Ecology & Evolution, and also in the “Reflections on Michael Soulé, a visionary for conservation biology” published in the August issue of Conservation Biology In the latter, published on Aug. 11, Georgina Mace was one of the influential conservation scientists contributing reflections. Excerpts are: “He founded our discipline and led and guided it through its formative years. I am proud to be one of the first members of the SCB, to have served on the board and as president, and to have seen the society grow, thrive, and ultimately mature into the establishment organisation that I do not think Michael ever quite came to terms with!” “His influences are everywhere.” “As I stumbled through my early efforts in conservation science, Michael Soulé was my guide.” “… he was always down-to-earth, entertaining, knowledgeable, and very kind as well. I learned much from him. He warned us repeatedly not to compromise in this, our crisis discipline. He will be hugely missed, but his legacy is enormous.”

Less than six weeks later, on Sep. 19, Georgina also passed away. For me, her passing was totally unexpected and for many others too. On Sep. 10, she was co-author of the Leclère et al. (2020) paper published in Nature ( and she retweeted about the Living Planet Report, and on July 16 about her and Ian Bateman’s (Bateman & Mace 2020) paper in Nature Sustainability on natural capital framework for decision making.

Wonderful obituaries have been written by, for example, again by Stuart Pimm (, by Nathalie Pettorelli in Nature (, by Jon Bridle and Kate Jones of the British Ecological Society ( and by Hayley Dunning ( For me personally, as Michael Soulé, she was a leading conservation scientist who bridged the science-policy and science-society gaps. And regarding the SCB, she was President during a mandate period, but at another time had the central role in the formation of Region Sections from year 2000 onwards. Regarding the Europe Section, she took the crucial step of inviting a group of conservation scientists to the Zoological Society of London on Sep. 14, 2001, to a meeting discussing the establishment of the Section. I was one of these invited persons. An interim board was formed based on the participants, and in 2002 the Section was formally established at the SCB’s 16th annual meeting at the University of Kent in Canterbury, with Luigi Boitani as the first Section President. As I recall, Georgina was already too busy and did not want to be nominated for the first Section Board elections.

In several ways, Georgina has contributed outstandingly to conservation science, to the SCB and to the Europe Section, both scientifically and socially. In addition to the Section's founding process, she has actively attended and enjoyed the European Congresses of Conservation Biology (ECCB). Always openminded with great overview, knowledge and input, great synthesis ability, spirit, and mindfulness. Georgina's and Russell Lande’s (1991) reevaluation of the IUCN’s threatened species categories ( is just one example of all her significant and lasting science-policy interfacing and communications, through the IUCN and through the SCB.

Both Michael Soulé’s and Georgina Mace’s accomplishments and legacies are enormous, and they will be hugely missed! They exemplify reasons for why one should - Listen to the scientists! And especially if one means to be a leading international example (Ursula von der Leyen's speech on the EU Green Week 2020) in the CBD work and context, and apply science-based adaptive management in the implementation of the EU Green Deal. Use continuous dialogue and collaborative learning with conservation scientists. The SCB Europe Section looks forward to help and contribute in this science-policy and science-society and -management dialogue! We also look forward to helping the EU Biodiversity Knowledge Centre and to the nextcoming ECCB, Aug. 2022, in Prague as examples of key arenas for such collaborative learning!

On behalf of the SCB Europe Section Board and the Section's Policy Committee, I wish all readers a Happy New 2021!

Per Sjögren-Gulve
Chair of the Europe Section Policy Committee,
and SCB Europe Board Member.

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