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Some thoughts from the World Biodiversity Forum, Davos

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Blog picture: Some thoughts from the World Biodiversity Forum, Davos
"I was encouraged that at least amongst the contributors there seemed to be agreement on a common overall goal: sustainable diversified agroecological farming"

In case you didn’t know, ecologists are comparatively rare in the playgrounds of the rich and famous. It seemed a little incongruous, then, to be heading to Davos for the first World Biodiversity Forum. However, given the huge challenges facing global biodiversity, but also the opportunities presented by the upcoming COP for the CBD in Kunming, perhaps now more than ever we need to step out of our comfort zones and talk to and work with other sectors, such as the business people that commonly frequent Davos’ hotels, restaurants and ski slopes. I’m sure there must also have been a lure to the organisers in the apparent juxtaposition of a conference aiming to “bring to­geth­er lead­ing re­searchers, ear­ly ca­reer re­searchers, prac­ti­tion­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from dif­fer­ent sec­tors, de­ci­sion-mak­ers and so­ci­etal ac­tors to have a con­ver­sa­tion on the kind of fu­ture we want (and/or do not want) for bio­di­ver­si­ty” with the global business event for which Davos is better known.

Irrespective, there I was in Davos. Apart from being interested in finding out what the wider event was all about, I was there for a more particular reason. Working with Christian Schöb and Johan Six from ETH Zurich, we had co-organised a conference session on “Enhancing biodiversity to support sustainable crop production.” This session was sponsored by a number of organisations, including the James Hutton Institute and the Macaulay Development Trust. It aimed to get perspectives on the key challenges in delivering this goal from the points of view of science, policy and practice. And in terms of the outcomes, I was encouraged that at least amongst the contributors there seemed to be agreement on a common overall goal: sustainable diversified agroecological farming. Other commonalities included the need to consider using alternative and particularly later successional species in farming systems; a linked need to “make agroforestry great again”; and the importance of developing new metrics allowing movement away from yield as the primary measure of agricultural success. With respect to identifying the key challenges, these seemed often to be associated with the provision of appropriate guidance and advice to farmers on alternative approaches (local tailoring may be essential), and the inflexible yield-orientated market systems within which farmers operated across the world.

Looking more widely at the conference, for an event with a grand title it was a (relatively) small, friendly and relaxed meeting. I think this worked in its favour allowing, for example, students to chat with plenary speakers during the coffee break, and friendly constructive discussions during conference sessions. The talks I attended were very wide-ranging, but for me, a few recurring themes came through. These included the growing interest at very high levels of policy in using natural solutions to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, but also very considerable concern that this could lead to perverse outcomes (monoculture Sitka anyone…?). However, it’s encouraging that there seems to be a strong desire for the outcome of CBD COP 15 to influence UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow, which - if it happens – would be a really constructive linking up of global policy frameworks. A couple of phrases also seemed to be very popular. Of course, there is transformational change, almost as ubiquitous now as the ecosystems service approach was 10 years ago. See this handy blog from the BES for more thoughts on this topic. New kids on the block included the interesting, apparently popular, and slightly tautological “bending the curve”, which referred to conservation activities able to alter the trajectory of global biodiversity decline. And – as was highlighted in our session – it was again noted that metrics are important: without appropriate metrics linked to well thought-through-goals we’ll end up either with limited or perverse delivery.

Moving forward, and if I understood correctly, there’s a desire from the organisers to have the WBF – which aims to be biennial - officially linked to the World Economic Forum in some way. This seems like an interesting test of the business world’s current renaissance with respect to the importance of biodiversity. Long may it last. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author, and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Printed from /blogs/EcologicalSciences/some-thoughts-world-biodiversity-forum-davos on 07/07/20 12:34:02 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.