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Climb Every Mountain – Four Ways to Meet the Biodiversity Challenge

Protecting biodiversity is not easy – the hint is the diversity part. So, scientists at the World Biodiversity Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have been talking not just about what needs to be changed, but how you find out in the first place.

Coordination, field work, workshops, and studying indigenous people were just some of the methods – or, in the jargon, pathways — outlined on Wednesday by speakers from Switzerland, Germany and France. The main thing they had in common was a goal of achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

One of the presented projects, funded by Future Earth, is in France. Paul Leadley, a professor at Paris Saclay-Orsay University, explained that after identifying current agricultural processes as the main threat to biodiversity in France, his team identified three profound but needed changes.

These were a fundamental change in diets, a transition to agro-ecological systems, and a transformation of livestock rearing. None are simple in a country with a powerful agricultural tradition (and a taste for haute cuisine, for that matter).

Leadley’s “pathway” for this and other biodiversity issues, such as cities, is a series of rolling workshops (outside Paris) bringing together scientists and stakeholders to look at the issues and discuss solutions towards them.

What should be an easier “pathway” was outlined by Ariane de Bremond, executive officer at the Global Land Programme. A big hurdle to reversing the decline in biodiversity, she said, was a lack of coordination, in this case between scientific groups and others with similar goals.

Land systems research, for example, should be shared with research on poverty.

“While land systems science is producing knowledge that could be relevant to sustainable development,” she noted in an abstract, “it is an open question whether the knowledge obtained is accessible (to others).”

Graham Prescott, a researcher at the University of Bern’s Institute of Plant Studies, said that developing an understanding of mountain diversity, on which he works, requires global, national and local study.

It could be via data, talking to experts or gathering information from the field, the latter because not everything was the same for everyone even if they live in similar biomes (heights, climates, latitudes etc).

“Depending on where you are, people talk about different issues,” he said. As examples, he cited people who are concerned about the impact of pollution on tea production, and those seeking to stop elephants eating crops.

A fourth “pathway”, according to Berta Martin-Lopez, a professor in sustainability science at Germany’s Leuphana University, is to study what indigenous people are doing that works.

Small scale initiatives are like seeds that grow and spread, she said. Among initiatives she cited was La Crianza del Agua in the Peruvian Andes. Roughly translated at the nurturing of water, it refers to the way local populations make up for water lost by melting glaciers.

One way is to use nets to capture water from the fog that surrounds the mountains – but only after asking the mountains’ permission.

Jeremy Gaunt is a freelance writer covering the World Biodiversity Forum for Future Earth