Science & Technology

Global collaboration is key to avoiding extinction

As the world is adapting to global-scale environmental crises, the scientific community must collaborate like never before. Current, unparalleled rates of biological diversity loss demand prompt implementation of science-informed policy. 

In response, scientists belonging to the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), co-chaired by Andrew Gonzalez, professor and Liber Ero Chair in Conservation Biology at McGill University, have developed a proposal for the Global Biodiversity Operating System (GBiOS). 

GBiOS would primarily exist to support each nation’s goals of preserving biodiversity by pooling together global data, knowledge, and technology. By connecting countries’ individual efforts, this system would also encourage collaboration and inform international policy-making.

Existing data repositories, like the Green Climate Fund (GCF), while valuable, lack a systematic approach. This hinders their international analysis and comparison, essential for guiding the strategic introduction of conservation measures and determining priority areas for conservation efforts.

“We can’t just keep going with a patchwork, opportunistic approach,” Gonzalez said in an interview with The Tribune

GBiOS would take advantage of pioneering technology, including a constellation of satellites, and the use of drones, environmental DNA, and camera traps, to bring the global science community together in monitoring and sharing critical data related to biodiversity. 

The system would not only inform biodiversity-related policy-making, but become an imperative tool for the corporate sector due to an upcoming international framework that will soon require companies to report their environmental impact.

“In order for companies to [disclose their impact], they’re going to have to have data,” Gonzalez explained. “And they don’t see something organized coming together that applies the proper scientific standards.” 

While a system like GBiOS is clearly critical for scientists, policy-makers, and business executives, it is currently nothing more than a proposal, requiring government funding and public support to become a reality. 

Gonzalez analogized GBiOS’ proposed infrastructure to a bucket that has been created by various global entities. A consistent, reliable flow of investment then needs to fill up this bucket. While certainly more complicated in reality, Gonzalez emphasized its feasibility. 

“We have a governance model, and a funding mechanism, and I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really not difficult,” Gonzalez said. “We have the organization in place, and there’s plenty of money in the system. It’s just not being invested at this point.”

While every nation might not necessarily be in agreement with GBiOS, Gonzalez recently returned from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 10 Plenary with a clear takeaway: “Many countries, both developed and developing, need the support [that GBiOS can offer].”

Though necessary when tackling global issues like climate change and biodiversity, achieving international cooperation is always tricky to navigate. If any global framework, such as GBiOS, is going to have a fighting chance, it needs to be designed with international support from the ground up. After all, climate change and biodiversity know no borders.

“It’s a very 20th-century solution for a few wealthy Northern Hemisphere countries to come together, decide what to do, build a big system, and then have everybody jump on if they want to […] the world has changed since then,” Gonzalez said. 

GEO BON, the organization behind GBiOS, addresses this issue by calling for a global approach, with an international team of scientists drafting the proposal. The system would concede to a slower, cooperative process, ensuring the equitable distribution of infrastructure across the world, so that relevant data is acquired fairly, efficiently, and reliably. 

The loss of biodiversity has a universal impact. Everyone, including the McGill community, must continue to think of themselves as a contributor to a larger global network. Working internationally promises a much greater pay-off in the end, a truth that Gonzalez concluded with the old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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