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Can Biodiversity Science Change the World?

Mark Graham © Canadian Museum of Nature.


The meetings for Biodiversity Next in Leiden, included this plenary session in the main theatre..

By Mark Graham, November 30, 2019

In late October, the museum’s Vice-President of Research and Collections, Dr. Mark Graham, attended the Biodiversity Next conference in the Netherlands. In this story, he reflects on the importance of sharing the biodiversity data that is the subject of this international gathering.

Who is in this room with me in Leiden at the Stadsgehoorzaal, a building that is accustomed to theatre performances? Instead of looking onto a stage with actors, dancers or musicians, I am viewing a large screen that says “Biodiversity Next” with a giant cut-out representation of a beetle that is blending into the screen as pixels break away and disappear. About 700 people from 76 countries—scientists, data experts and policymakers—are filling the seats. What we are there to discuss and learn about for a few days will change the world.

For decades, science experts have been accumulating evidence through research and sounding the alarm about changes to our natural environment. At the same time, they have also been developing ways to document their findings and freely share their results. Some of these efforts are powerful tools that help us understand what is happening and how to create solutions. We do that so decision makers might use their powers to balance priorities in a way that favours the health and sustainability of our world…and not just for one dominant species with a great ability to reproduce and adapt!

Biodiversity Next! brings together the science experts who create biodiversity data, create the standards required to share it digitally, and create the informatics tools to share and analyze it. They are joined by the organizations who gather and share science data, as well as the policymakers and others who use the data. To have the leaders and key practitioners of these interest groups together at one time is important and rare.

Here is what we know for sure. There is a global biodiversity crisis. We know the reasons and they are serious. Food and water supplies are critically threatened. There is rapid, global climate warming that complicates all of these issues. If there is coordinated, global action, there will be solutions; without coordinated global action the opposite will happen.

The global organizations that document and report on the scientific facts about climate change (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC) and biodiversity (the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecological Services – IPBES) rely on the. hundreds of experts in this room, their army of colleagues and organizations such as  the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which makes the science data freely available. The IPCC and IPBES use this data to clearly summarize the scientific facts and what it means to life on Earth.

Will we change the world? Absolutely! If this alliance of data scientists keeps on doing what they do, the world will be changed in tiny increments, one data point at a time. As the saying goes, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. The world will be changed in a reassuring way if political leaders listen to the abundance of scientific advice given to them. Then, in using that advice, they can find the courage and good sense to make policy decisions that give our natural world equal standing with our construct of global economics.