Satellite mega-constellations identified as one of 15 emerging issues of most concern for global biodiversity conservation

23rd November 2021

The 15 emerging issues of most concern for global biodiversity conservation have been published this week. The 13th annual horizon scan was again led by CCI Council Member and Cambridge University conservation biologist Prof. William Sutherland. A panel of 26 scientists and practitioners submitted a total of 80 topics that were ranked using a Delphi-style technique according to the novelty and likelihood of impact on biodiversity conservation. Issues are either novel within the biological conservation sector or could cause a substantial step-change in impact, either globally or regionally.

The top issues cover impacts ranging from satellite mega-constellations in low earth orbit to deep-sea mining as well as emerging issues such as floating photovoltaics, long-distance wireless energy, and ammonia as a fuel source.

The research has identified a concerning misalignment between the development of chemicals, such as new refrigerants and pesticides, and assessment and regulation. This is particularly detrimental as chemicals can continue to have a negative impact decades after they have been banned. In 2021, for example, there weren’t any rivers in England that were deemed to be in good chemical health because of this legacy, but new toxicants continue to emerge.

Another notable trend identified is the growing access to environmental impact litigation against companies and governments by private citizens. Increased access to knowledge, technology, and support has enabled bodies to be held accountable not only for climate change but also for a diverse set of issues ranging from pollution to the generation of microplastics to losses of species. This democratisation of action seems likely to play a growing role in sustainable development globally.

With new global goals for biodiversity and climate on the horizon, it is crucial to ensure that the mechanisms for reaching those global goals do not have unintended consequences. Horizon scanning can help to identify vital, often overlooked, issues and can enable increased preparedness by researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers.

The review is published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution and you can access it here

Photo: Space debris – c.ESA