A biodiverse planet is more than just a “nice-to-have”

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into its genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady.” – The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson  

The variety of life in a particular area or habitat, ranging from animals, plants, fungi and even microorganisms, constitutes the biodiversity on our planet Earth. It’s comprised total species, their genetic variation and the interaction of these lifeforms within complex ecosystems. Although humans sit at the top of the food chain, our existence relies heavily on maintaining the fine balance of nature and the diversity of other species coinhabiting the Earth.

Tacking stock of the damage

In 2019, the ‘IPCC of Biodiversity’, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), published a report on the state of nature, ecosystems and how nature underpins all of human activity. It put the world ‘on notice’. The study noted that human actions threaten more species with global extinction now, than ever before.

Around one million species already face extinction and many of these could disappear within decades, unless we take action. Figures 1 and 2 below take stock of the global extinction risk in different species and the decline seen since 1980. The report also observed that the cumulative percentage of species driven to extinct has sharply increased since the 1900s.

Figure 1: Current global extinction risk in different species groups                                           

Fig 2: Declines in species survival since 1980

Source: IPBES (2019), Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services

So, what’s causing this loss? In order of impact, there are five direct drivers of the change in nature: i) changes in land and sea use; ii) direct exploitation of organisms; iii) climate change; iv) pollution; and v) invasion of alien species. These drivers, in turn, are impacted by multiple underlying indirect drivers including human population dynamics, our consumption patterns, trade, technology, or factors relating to institutions, governance, conflicts and epidemics (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Drivers of biodiversity loss

Source: IPBES (2019), Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Learning from the local communities who haven’t forgotten

While the last 50 years of human history have caused significant damage to biodiversity, our ancestors were much closer and kinder to nature. Around 476 million Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IP&LCs) stand firmly, maintaining the inter-generational connection to place and nature through livelihoods, cultural identity and worldviews, institutions and ecological knowledge. These communities are known to have continuously evolved in dynamic and adaptive ways over millennia. At a time when we are desperately looking for ways to develop climate resilience and adaptation, the knowledge held by IP&LCs is invaluable.

However, despite guarding over a quarter of the world’s land surface and around 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes, the IP&LCs account for about 19 percent of the extreme poor in our world. They face severe marginalisation in terms of access to education, basic services and infrastructure, as well as health outcomes. Although the effects of exploitative resource extraction are felt most strongly by IP&LCs, they often receive far less than their share of resource-derived wealth.

Technology for biodiversity – lessons from the frontline

Digital technology unlocks new potential to address these interconnected challenges and help IP&LCs manage natural resources by reducing and reversing biodiversity loss. And not just for the IP&LCs, but also multiple groups of farmers, fishermen, and foresters that continue to stay close to nature and manage, as well as conserve, biodiversity.

In March 2023, the GSMA ClimateTech and FCDO-funded Reversing Environmental Degradation in Africa and Asia (REDAA) programmes published a new report exploring the barriers and opportunities to Natural Resource Management (NRM) solutions. Our research findings are particularly relevant as we observe the International Day for Biological Diversity, with a hope to move from agreements made at COP15 last year to action on building back biodiversity. The report proposes an action-oriented approach to developing digital tools for and with local people to help manage and conserve nature.  

Fig 4: Best practices for driving uptake of digital NRM solutions

Source: Exploring barriers and incentives to digital solutions in Natural Resource Management

We summarised some of the findings in our Earth Day blog and also hosted a webinar on 6 June 2023, where we discussed the topic in detail and heard from practitioners in the industry:

ClimateTech Webinar: Creating digital solutions to help people and nature thrive: Lessons from the frontline’

Consolidated efforts needed from public and private sectors

The diversity of nature maintains humanity’s ability to choose alternatives in the face of an uncertain future. There is not only an urgent need to ensure environment friendly technology, innovation and investment backed by multi-actor governance interventions, but it is also important to understand and leverage the role of technology in promoting sustainable consumption and production and enabling just and equitable ways to work with IP&LCs.

At the GSMA, we pilot and scale-up digital technology innovations that make a positive socio-economic and environmental impact in areas with communities most vulnerable to current or future climate risks (see for example, the GSMA Innovation Fund for Climate Resilience and Adaptation 2.0) and will continue to explore the topic of biodiversity and the role that private actors can play in bringing transformative change in global sustainability pathways.


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The Reversing Environmental Degradation in Africa and Asia (REDAA) programme provided funding for activities that supported the development of the research, and technical guidance for the report. REDAA is a programme that catalyses locally led research, innovation and action to help people and nature thrive together across Africa and Asia. It is funded by UK Aid from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and managed by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).