On Partnerships and Collaborations: From Nature to Serve Nature

  • 2020/12/27     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Unsplash/novi raj

    Biodiversity is indispensable to all of us. Our common goal to halt its loss, to restore and sustain it should thus guide our actions. In the concluding month of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, Partnerships and Liaison Officer Dr Nora Adam draws attention to developing capacities for further biodiversity protection through collaboration, innovation, education, and mobilising the necessary funding.

    By Nora Adam

    Multiple national and international targets have been made to halt the loss of biodiversity on Earth since the term was born in 1986. However, a comprehensive synthesis in the 2019 IPBES global report clearly demonstrated that many targets will not be sufficiently met. It points out that around one million species are likely to face extinction. The report, however, presents transformative change, its levers and leverage points as the way out of the crisis – the final ultimatum.

    A common trajectory that will sustain diversity on Earth has to be shaped by all of humanity in an inclusive approach. Collaborations and integrations that foster innovation are key for this path. “Our solutions are in nature” is the theme of the 2020 International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB). The slogan is particularly pertinent, as nature is a master in showcasing fascinating forms of collaborations and innovations. We can collectively learn from nature to serve nature.

    Collaborations – The Way Forward

    Simple to complex organisms have evolved different forms of collaborations. Strategic collaborations within and between species have the capacity to enhance survival and enable the exploitation of resources, the conquest of new niches, and adaptations to a sometimes hostile environment.

    For our own species, collaborations have deeper consequences still. They enabled us to evolve language and culture; some literature even argues that the way of human collaboration is unique across the kingdom of life – making us who we are. How can we use this concept to halt the current biodiversity loss? How can we use partnerships to heal the damage that we inflicted on our planet? SGD 17 “Partnerships for the Goals” gives a hint.

    An important form of collaboration is an increased engagement of scientists with businesses. It has already become mainstream that scientists should engage with decision makers, thus contributing to and shaping the political discourse. Further, scientists are getting better in communicating their findings beyond the scientific circle, to the wider public. The time is also ripe to encourage scientists to seek collaborations with businesses, not only as donors for their studies but to guide the incorporation of biodiversity assessments into business models. Business and science can build on the many existing initiatives for “Business and Biodiversity”. We can further develop them to implement strategies for the sustainable use of biodiversity. Understanding that we are interdependent is a basic principle for effective collaboration.

    Innovation and Integration – The Challenge

    Genetic diversity is a source of incredible innovation. This includes the “product design” of exotic shapes; the “manufacturing” of unique natural compounds with the ability to fight disease, or “business models” that equip species with the unique abilities to persist in adverse habitats. Conversely, research, business, and politics can foster innovative approaches to protect biodiversity. From the perspective of researchers, interdisciplinary work is valued as an engine for innovation. Yet interdisciplinarity in biodiversity science does not seem to be increasing. Among the general barriers to interdisciplinarity are communication difficulties and differences in the disciplinary approaches.

    Members of research teams should think beyond the classical interdisciplinary work characterised by the “division of labour” between specialists. An innovative approach to foster interdisciplinarity can be observed in nature. Deborah M. Gordon describes a concept observed in ant colonies, termed distributed process. The concept refers to how individuals in a colony change their function as a response to a dynamic environment. If we adapt this concept to a research team, a specialist is encouraged to perform tasks beyond their area of expertise. At first glance, this might not seem to be the most efficient way to implement projects, however, during the designing phase, specialists can now view the problem through a different lens. Funding agencies should explore how truly interdisciplinary approaches can be applied in biodiversity science to foster the level of scientific innovation that we need to address challenging problems.

    Pluralism – The Necessity

    External and intrinsic values of biodiversity are perceived differently across societies and cultures. Recent efforts call for moving away from depending on one source of knowledge towards a more inclusive approach by incorporating diverse sources of knowledge. This can include different scientific disciplines, as well as local and indigenous knowledge. This is indeed valuable as it opens the process to also include indigenous groups that both have a long tradition on relying on nature and who are most affected by its degradation. In addition, being open to integrate intercultural learning is necessary as the magnitude of the biodiversity crisis exceeds spatial and social boundaries. Our actions have to be guided by rigorous scientific knowledge and expert assessments. When we also acknowledge that the consequences of these actions will be borne by everyone, inclusivity and co-creation of solutions become prerequisites for collective action, only then making a successful implementation possible.

    A recent report examines “Biodiversity as a Human Right”, perhaps it is this type of transformation that we need to change the course of our future. We have lost many battles; the consequences are severe and may be irreversible, but we did not yet lose the war.