With biodiversity declining at unprecedented rates and less than a decade remaining to avert the worst effects of climate change, world leaders and policymakers are on the hunt for new and innovative solutions. In the halls and meeting rooms of global COP conferences, digital technologies have been heavily promoted to address these interrelated threats to our ecosystem.
At the recent COP27 climate conference in Egypt, the Forest Data Partnership — a global consortium co-ordinated by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, NASA, Google and Unilever — called for a “global alliance to unlock the value of land use data to protect and restore nature.” The WRI promoted its Land and Carbon Lab to measure carbon stocks associated with land use.
Nature4Climate — a coalition of 20 environmental organizations — revealed a new online platform to help implement natural climate solutions. They also exhibited a report on the “nature tech market.” At the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal, NatureMetrics, a provider of nature intelligence technology, launched a new digital dashboard to enable standardized measurements of the health of ecosystems.
Many, however, see such efforts as a dangerous push to get untried and untested corporate technologies accepted as “nature-positive solutions” in the Convention on Biological Diversity and climate negotiations.
As researchers examining the role of technologies in biodiversity monitoring and protected area management, we find that these digital technologies have the potential to yield positive results, if co-developed and used ethically with Indigenous Peoples.
Microsoft’s $50 million “AI for Earth” program, for instance, aims to “transform the way we monitor, model and ultimately manage Earth’s natural resources through grants, technology and access to data.” Such programs, including the Forest Data Partnership, have helped establish partnerships involving philanthropic, academic, non-governmental, public and private sector institutions.
In a critique of the Forest Data Partnership, the environmental organization Greenpeace argued that it is “nothing but a green light for eight more years of forest destruction, with little respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.” It also argued that this allows polluters to do more business as usual through “carbon trickery instead of advancing true climate action.”
Technology For A Just And Sustainable Future
At COP15 there has been a critical parallel movement to support Indigenous-led conservation to meet global biodiversity and climate change commitments.
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