Coalescing global expertise for global problems: thoughts from the Davos World Biodiversity Forum

Last month, Davos hosted the first World Biodiversity Forum, bringing together representatives from different sectors to hold a conversation about the future of biodiversity around the world. Marc Cadotte, Chair of Applied Ecology Resources (AER) and Editor-in-Chief of Ecological Solutions and Evidence (ESE), shares his thoughts and experiences from the inaugural event.

Global discussions around pandemics and economic downturn garner immense attention from governments and the public; these make sense given their direct relevance to human well-being. But other potential catastrophes like the biodiversity crisis seem to have an uphill battle to get on the public discourse radar, perhaps because of the perceived lack of personal interest narrative.

The annual Davos World Economic Forum, for example, includes global leaders of industry and representatives from global financial institutions and government agencies, and consistently attracts the attention of global news media. As a purposeful response to this focus, the Davos World Biodiversity Forum occurred just a few weeks after the Economic Forum this year to highlight the need for global discourse around the causes and potential solutions and mitigation around biodiversity loss and global change. Except, the global news media were nowhere to be seen.

Nevertheless, the World Biodiversity Forum brought together several hundred global biodiversity research leaders and representatives from governmental and non-governmental organisations to share information, engage in dialogue and form new collaborations. The talks and workshops held were fantastic and ranged in scale from global to extremely local, from basic ecological perspectives to the inclusion of human perception, and examined everything from natural systems to cities.

The format of the meeting was innovative with two sets of plenary talks daily, and the plenaries were the highlight for me. In each plenary, two experts delivered 30 minute talks and the two speakers were purposefully chosen to provide complementary perspectives; one from the natural sciences and one representing the perspective of society, culture and organisations. The juxtaposition in speakers were particularly interesting and refreshing, and I hope that future iterations of this meeting will make this a tradition.

The other innovative activity was a ‘mock parliament’ where delegates were separated into two parties and partook in a debate, with professional facilitators. I think this was a great activity that helped open discussion on topics we might not normally think about and on topics where there is legitimate disagreement that we wouldn’t normally engage in public debate. Despite the fact that us Canadians seemed to dominate debate, this was an inclusive and entertaining event.

‘Mock parliament’ session

I attended the Forum representing AER and ESE, and had a large number of good discussions about better bridging the divide between research, and implementation and policy. Some of these discussions were held during a workshop we led on designing and communicating applied projects, geared towards early career researchers and non-academics, and had a wonderful time interacting with an enthusiastic and engaged group. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the goals and structure of AER and heard from many people about their willingness to champion AER to their non-academic contacts. Further, given the international composition of the attendees, there was a lot of excitement about AER’s commitment to publishing grey literature in multiple languages and summarising the research in English for non-English publications.

This was the inaugural World Biodiversity Forum and is tentatively planned to occur regularly, coinciding with the World Economic Forum meetings. I hope the two Forums will continually link conversations about global economic growth and priority and their impacts on global biodiversity and environmental well-being. I look forward to seeing the impact of the World Biodiversity Forum grow over time and greater representation from large NGOs and governments who will help drive much needed policy change. Perhaps there will be enough personal interest narrative for the media then.

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