A Shared Resolution for the Future for our Planet

Dr Sandra Knapp and Stephanie Holt discuss the provenance of 'Linnean Future' and what compelled it

Published on 5th February 2021

On 26 May 2020, the Linnean Society agreed upon a at the AGM:

“The perfect storm of the planetary emergency of climate change and biodiversity loss, coupled with the unpredictability of disease emergence, has profoundly changed our lives. To better contribute to transformative global solutions, and to further our vision of a world where nature is understood, valued and protected, Council resolves to use the unique platform of the Society to highlight, communicate, and facilitate action by addressing the impacts of the planetary emergency on our natural world.”

Sandra Knapp (President of the Linnean Society) and Stephanie Holt (Trustee and Chair of the new Linnean Future Committee) discuss the impetus behind this new development, why it is important for the Society to engage with this subject, what we’ve done so far, and what’s next.

Steph: Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are a double assault on our natural world. We are experiencing more severe and extreme climate events, sweeping wildfires, flooding. Each day we face an increasing pile of evidence of species and habitat loss. I wanted to ask you, Sandy, was there some compelling event that prompted this Resolution from the Society? And what is its significance?

Sandy: The Resolution that was put to the Anniversary Meeting of the Society on 26th May 2020 stemmed from an initial challenge to the Society from one of our Fellows, Dr. John Box. He had queried what we as a Society were actually doing to address the issue of climate change. Discussions in Council highlighted our view that climate change was not the only issue that was contributing to the devastation – biodiversity loss had long been an issue of concern to the Society. This had been brought into sharp relief by the IPBES Global Assessment in mid-2019.

We had also, for several years, been reducing our carbon footprint in Burlington House through positive action in energy consumption and procurement. Our programmes and resources have long focussed on all aspects of natural history, including losses and dangers faced by the natural world.

But we felt that it was clear that we needed to make our contributions and position more visible. Dr Box’s queries made us realise that we were working hard, but almost invisibly. And that needed to change our business-as-usual. We decided to bring our commitment to the issues facing our planet and engage our Fellowship with our actions. We hope that this will spur additional actions at global, national and local levels. The global nature of our Fellowship can ensure that we reach far beyond London, where the Society is based.

So, the Resolution was drafted and put to the Fellowship for a vote – at a time of great change for the whole world, in the first phase of COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that our AGM was virtual for the first time. This emphasised the added perils of destruction of the nature – the increase in public health crises.

In a way, it was great that this Resolution was put to the Fellowship at that time – we had huge participation in the Anniversary Meeting from around the globe, more than 200 Fellows attended from about 40 countries. This meant we really had the platform to rollout the Resolution, and a collective desire from within the Society.

As President, I feel this was as important a Resolution as other resolutions, such as, accepting the Annual Accounts or appointing our auditors. We need to be more open and transparent about what how we want to achieve our vision and mission to address what is THE pressing concern of our time.

The Society cannot do this alone, nor can we do everything to address the many pressing issues – but we do have a global, engaged Fellowship, and this Resolution is evidence of a joint enterprise wherein we will do our part.

Our first action in response to this Resolution was to create a new Committee for the Society, which, thanks to our Fellows (for their suggestions) is called Linnean Future: The Planetary Emergency Response Committee of the Linnean Society. Steph, what has been done so far?

Steph: To get things off the ground, we created a small start-up Committee. This comprises of myself as Chair, John Box, Andy Purvis, Elizabeth Rollinson, Padmaparna Ghosh and Helen Shaw. We’ve been working on a number of critical initial tasks, first and foremost deciding on our core remit, the themes of work critical to what our objectives, so that we can target our efforts:

  • Practising what we preach – improving the sustainability of ways of working in the Linnean Society in relation to the planetary emergency of climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Research in action – supporting collaboration and research addressing the planetary emergency, particularly in the areas of taxonomy and systematics.
  • Sharing our expertise - ensuring the Society acts as a forum and focus for scientific debate, practical discussion, and policy advice at a national and global scales regarding biodiversity in relation to the planetary emergency.
  • Inspiring action - Engaging and involving the Fellows, Members and the public in debate and learning. Highlight, communicate, and facilitate action addressing the impacts of the planetary emergency on our natural world.

We wanted to create a Committee which was about action, and really mobilised the unique skill set and position of the Society as well as its Fellows. And this isn’t just about working externally. We want to look at how the Society operates, and ‘lead from the front’ by reducing our impact, hopefully to net zero carbon emissions, as soon as possible.

To that end, we have been working hard on calculating our carbon footprint, and associated reductions. Helen and John will be sharing more on that in one of our next blogs, and we’ll be sharing the sustainability report through our webpages and the Annual Review later this year.

But it’s not all about looking inward of course. Sandy, as an institution with a global Fellowship, we have an opportunity to a have real impact here, don’t we?

Sandy: As I said earlier Steph, we do have a global Fellowship, who come from all walks of life. So the Society has a unique reach as compared with many other learned societies. Our Fellows are all passionate about the natural world and its study. Going virtual has meant that – and this has been one positive of the pandemic really — many of our Fellows who don’t reside in London have been able to come to our meetings. We can use our lectures, blogs and educational resources to connect more people, including our Fellows, with our actions.

They can keep an eye on our work on reducing our carbon footprint, engage with speakers on topics related to the planetary crisis and inspire direct action in the younger generation though educational activities and resources. We really do have the platform to make an impact.

But of course, we can’t do it all. We will need to prioritise our activities carefully, and be open with our audiences about what are we doing, and why.

So how do we make this happen Steph, what’s next on the Committees agenda?

Steph: We’ve only just started on this journey, and there is so much to do. We have our new webpages on the Society’s website which will help us connect with a global audience and share much more of what we’re doing as a Society. We also have plans to develop talks and events to help share information and research. Fundamentally though we can’t tackle something this big without our Fellows, so the next phase of the Committee is going to be about building connections.

We’ll launch the Committee on the 28th January, when we will put out a call to our Fellows and student members for expressions of interest. We’d like to build both a small, sustainable, active Committee to lead work on our four core themes, and a network of people who are interested in lending their experience, expertise and enthusiasm to this new venture.

From there we’ll be able to make our next actions much more viable, and really utilise the unique profile of our Fellowship, from eminent experts in their field to students just starting out on their conservation journey.

This might involve helping out with events, writing position statements, developing peer networks, communicating to the general public through blogs and podcasts, supporting research, or speaking on behalf of the Society.

Sandy: I am really excited about Linnean Future – it promises to hold the Society accountable for our actions. We will be putting actions to our words. As one of our treasured Fellows, Sir David Attenborough has said (and I am paraphrasing wildly) that to love nature you must experience it, which then leads to protection and caring. This is central to the Linnean Society’s vision of a planet where nature is understood, valued and protected. For us this has to begin at home — with our Society’s actions and results, and I really hope everyone will want to be involved!