Four Steps for Earth: A Holistic Approach to Transform Humanity’s Relationship With Nature and Save the Planet

This decade must be the turning point, where we transform humanity’s relationship with nature and put the planet on a path to recovery, argues a global team of researchers in a paper published on Friday, January 22, 2021, outlining a new framework for implementing global commitments to restoring nature, The Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy — or, more snappily, Four Steps for the Earth.

The United Nations is currently developing a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, for the world to ‘live in harmony with nature’ by 2050. This will be negotiated in Kunming, China, later this year.

The researchers, from 22 institutions, led by the University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, argue there has never been a more important time for this bold vision, and everyone has a role to play in its delivery. The paper, published by One Earth, shows how to change our overall impact from negative to positive in four distinct steps, the ‘4Rs’:

  • The refrain step involves avoiding negative impacts on nature as far as possible.
  • The reduce step involves minimizing damage to nature where it cannot be completely avoided.
  • The restore step involves remediating any immediate damage to nature.
  • The renew step involves investing in revitalizing nature.

Lead author, Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, says, ‘This paper represents a real team effort, with authors from academia, business and government. We’re excited to launch this idea and hope that it will be useful to many different groups as they work to realize the vision of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. It’s a huge challenge, with many different facets, and we hope that Four Steps for the Earth will provide an intuitive and flexible framework for tying all the threads together.’

What makes the Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy unique is that it enables all types of negative and positive impacts on nature, carried out by different groups at different scales, to be accounted for within the same framework. It is focused on identifying actions that contribute towards an aspirational goal, such as leaving nature in a better state than we found it in.

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