New methodology for modeling biodiversity developed at UFMG points to new paths for conservation

CLEVER researchers of Centre for Remote Sensing of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) have developed an innovative approach for modeling biodiversity with great implications to biodiversity conservation studies. Led by Ubirajara Oliveira, the study proposes a new methodology that overcomes the challenges posed by the lack of knowledge about biodiversity in remote areas.

Figure 1 – The lack of knowledge in remote areas poses a challenge for biodiversity modeling and conservation

The article entitled “Controlling the Effects of Sampling Bias in Biodiversity Models“, published in the Journal of Biogeography, addresses how sampling biases, or the fact that some regions are better at sampling than others, affect our ability to understand biodiversity patterns. These biases often affect biodiversity estimates, mainly because more accessible regions tend to be more studied. These errors may impact the capacity to identify critical areas for preservation of a diversity of species.

To address this issue, the team developed simulations of virtual species distributions, in which collection biases and the expected results of the modeling were previously fully known. This process allowed the researchers not only to isolate uncontrolled factors present in real data, but also to evaluate the modeling methods under thousands of different species distribution contexts.

Figure 2 – USSE provides more accurate and consistent biodiversity predictions, mitigating impacts of the sampling bias and gaps.

The results indicated that the most used techniques for mapping biodiversity, such as species distribution models and spatial interpolation, often fail to capture the real biological diversity. Then, the team of researchers proposed a new methodology called Uniform Sampling from Sampling Effort, or USSE, which proved to be effective in mitigating the effects of sampling bias. USSE provided more accurate and consistent biodiversity predictions, resulting in a powerful tool for planning and conservation actions.

Figure 3 – Frontier between crop lands and the Amazon Forest in Mato Grosso – Brazil.

In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, many regions remain unknown in terms of biodiversity and deforestation caused by the expansion of agricultural crops and pastures, which puts at risk unknown numbers of species. The ability to propose effective conservation strategies and public policies for these regions, among different factors, also depends on being able to predict accurately the biodiversity distribution to identify the critical areas for preservation.

Written by Ubirajara Oliveira, Britaldo Soares-Filho and Felipe Nunes of the Centre for Remote Sensing of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

CLEVER research represented in Kathmandu at the IPBES Nexus Assessment’s Third Author Meeting

Andrea Pacheco, CLEVER postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bonn, was recently in Kathmandu, Nepal participating as an author of the upcoming Nexus Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that took place from February 5-11.

The assessment is synthesizing “the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food, health, and climate”, and the complementarities and interdependencies that exist across these elements in the efforts to achieve globally agreed goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals or the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The meeting was hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and authors had the opportunity to learn about their work across the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, as well as explore the culturally vibrant city of Kathmandu.

Andrea participates in the assessment as a part of IPBES’ fellowship programme, which “provides an opportunity for outstanding early-career individuals from all backgrounds and disciplines” as a part of IPBES’ broader capacity-building work. She works specifically on Chapter 6, “Options for delivering sustainable approaches to public and private finance for biodiversity-related elements of the nexus” and makes specific contributions in Chapter 5.3 “Options for delivering sustainable approaches to elements of the nexus (food systems)”. CLEVER researcher, David Leclére also participates as a lead author in the assessment in Chapter 3, “Future interactions across the nexus”.

Authors of the Nexus Assessment are now in the final stages of writing the assessment, which will be published at the end of 2024, pending approval of the Summary for Policymakers during the IPBES 11, taking place in Windhoek, Namibia December 10-16th.

Authors of the IPBES Nexus Assessment present at the Third Author Meeting (photo courtesy of Tiff van Huysen).

Our decisions, as consumers, can generate impacts in very distant places – interview with Dr. Neus Escobar

CLEVER researcher Dr. Neus Escobar, from BC3, recently won the Audience Award at the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Conference, held in conjunction with the Spanish Presidency of the EU on 14-15 November 2023 in Toledo (Spain). She was among the 15 finalists selected from 170 MSCA projects to introduce her research and showcase the diversity of academic careers.

Neus presented her pitch ‘Tracking Chocolate to Fight Deforestation’ in the category ‘Exposure to Policy Making’. This topic summarized research insights from the MSCA-IF GIFTS (Global Interlinkages in Food Trade Systems) project. GIFTS is hosted by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), which is also a partner in CLEVER, contributing to the development of indicators for biodiversity footprints and sustainability trade-off analysis.

What is the focus of your research in the GIFTS project? And what is the project about in general?

GIFTS is focused on the development of a global database that tracks supply chains of agri-food products across years, from the producing country to the country where consumption takes place, by distinguishing between food, feed, and non-food uses. The database is called Agro-SCAN and is entirely based on FAOSTAT data and includes 640 products, more than any similar database, and 181 countries. The objective of GIFTS is specifically to improve and expand Agro-SCAN in collaboration with FAO for estimating environmental footprints of food consumption. Ultimately, GIFTS aims to inform consumers’ decisions towards more resilient and sustainable agri-food systems in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

What did you find so interesting about researching chocolate?

What makes chocolate an interesting case study is that many countries that are major chocolate producers do not produce cocoa beans. In fact, all cocoa bean production is concentrated in the tropics. This highlights the importance of international trade in securing global chocolate production, resulting in complex and interconnected supply chains. At the same time, this translates into large cocoa bean areas being virtually exported, for example, almost 90% of the total area harvested in 2020. The largest land footprints per capita are found in high-income countries such as Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, or Canada.

Why is it important to be aware of the environmental impacts of the products we use?

Our results show that global agri-food markets are strongly interconnected and that our decisions, as consumers, can generate impacts in very distant places, such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, environmental pollution, or loss of rural livelihoods. The database at the core of GIFTS helps increase transparency in global supply chains, meaning food and feed consumers can know the origin of the raw materials used, the countries involved and the impacts generated. This information is valuable to understand the intensity of the impact of our consumption and the benefits of alternative options.

What is the relationship between GIFTS and CLEVER?

GIFTS and CLEVER are very related and in continuous exchange, as both share BC3 researchers, tackle similar topics (trade mediated-impacts and sustainability analysis), and even started in the same date. Both GIFTS and CLEVER aim to provide quantitative evidence for informing policymaking towards cleaner and transparent supply chains. After GIFTS, I will join CLEVER for the completion of the analyzes on the impacts and trade-offs from several policy strategies aimed at preventing biodiversity loss.

How can your research in GIFTS help the CLEVER project?

GIFTS can complement supply chain analyzes for CLEVER in WP6 (Representing ecological footprints and policy-trade-biodiversity linkages in global modelling), as the database being developed includes quantities of products and co-products traded across supply chains, from producing countries to final demand. This can provide a global picture about the origin of the raw materials used for the supply chains of interest in CLEVER. This is also helpful to identify the stakeholders involved in production and trade of CLEVER commodities, and the subsequent impacts of biodiversity loss. At the same time, the indicators generated by CLEVER can ultimately be implemented in the Agro-SCAN database to measure biodiversity loss footprints of food, feed and non-food consumption, which includes industrial uses of biomass.

Interview by Rosa Castañeda from EFI.

Effective stakeholder engagement: Why we believe in the power of mapping value chain actors and co-design

Understanding who are involved in each stage of the global biomass value chain is not an easy task. For the success of stakeholder engagement, however, we believe that stakeholder mapping acts as the foundation to bring together a wide range of voices, both from exporting and importing countries.

This is why in February 2023, we kicked off the CLEVER stakeholder work with a vital step – a comprehensive mapping exercise. Our goal was to ensure diverse representation and engagement across the trade supply chains of timber and soy in Brazil, timber in Cameroon, and global fishmeal and fish oil flows heading to the EU. Our stakeholder maps (see the map for Brazil below) encompass various actors, from biomass producers and traders to policymakers and local communities. Now we are set to delve deeper into our value chain maps and engage with our extensive impact network, gathering vital insights for our empirical research.

The next step from mapping stakeholders is to get them involved in our project, to refine our research questions, facilitate knowledge sharing, and foster co-design that leads to innovative policy recommendations and governance instruments. This is where co-design comes into the picture. At the end of the first year of the project, in August 2023, we made significant strides in defining the essential role of stakeholder engagement and co-design for the project.

The CLEVER Stakeholder Reference Group takes center stage in this co-innovation landscape, steering us towards transformative change. Our researchers will also conduct content-related interviews with key stakeholders, contributing to our shared goals.

The project aims to provide a holistic view of the relationship between international trade and biodiversity. Our modelling simulations delve into the impact of trade-related interventions on biodiversity outcomes. This enables us to identify potential leverage points for positive change. We produced a user-friendly, transparent presentation of the Modeling Framework (see below) to invite stakeholders to join us in this essential research journey.

Stay tuned for more exciting updates as we continue to explore the complex web of global biomass trade and its impact on our environment!

Access all the resources here:

Written by Heli Sihvonen, UNEP-WCMC

Cover image by AdobeStock

Toward compliance with the EU Deforestation Regulation: Criteria, Tools, and Open Questions

The past decades have seen a global increase in the production and trade in agricultural and forest-based commodities linked to deforestation and other socio-environmental risks. Different forms of governance have emerged to attempt regulation of these commodity supply chains to halt deforestation and ensure sustainable land-use change. In June 2023, the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) was adopted, requiring EU companies to ensure that certain products imported to the EU are not associated with deforestation. The EUDR aims to minimize the EU’s contribution to deforestation and forest degradation worldwide. As such, it is intended to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss as stipulated in the European Green Deal. As the EUDR enters into force, many questions arise as to how the value chains of major globally traded commodities can become compliant.

With this in mind, the CLEVER and RAINFOREST partner Bonn.Realis organized a workshop called “Toward compliance with the EU Deforestation Regulation: Criteria, Tools, and Open Questions” on November 13, 2023, joining participants both online and in person, at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn. More than 60 stakeholders joined, mainly from Germany, Brazil, but also other international actors, representing all sectors – public authorities, private companies, certifiers, NGOs, company associations, and research organizations. The workshop aimed at providing a space for discussion and exchange, identifying knowledge and capacity gaps to comply with the EUDR as well as opportunities for future collaboration toward improving supply chain sustainability. The workshop focused on Brazil as a key supplier to the EU and three specific commodities covered by the EUDR (i.e. beef, soy, and wood).

Under Chatham House Rules, participants discussed two fundamental questions:

  1. What challenges must be overcome in the three value chains in order to achieve compliance with the EUDR and related due diligence policies?
  2. Which tools and support mechanisms are in place or being developed to overcome these challenges, especially as regards IT solutions, certification schemes, and the mutual recognition of administrative and control systems?

The workshop provided a solid overview of what operators in both regions as well as competent enforcement authorities in the EU can build on in terms of traceability systems and tools for compliance. We also gathered valuable information on areas where stakeholders require further clarification and guidance to align effectively with the new regulatory conditions. Questions around traceability, risk assessment and mitigating measures, supply chain segregation, and transaction costs dominated the debates in separate breakout groups for the three commodities. Considerable uncertainty exists as to the quality standards that competent national authorities and third parties may apply to evaluate future due diligence efforts of operators. There was also an emphasis on a pre-competitive collaboration among operators and service providers in order to generate accessible traceability solutions for all actors of the supply chain.

In sum, we have learned a lot about the challenges that key stakeholders involved in the implementation of the EUDR still need to overcome until its rules will apply from 30th of December 2024. A summary paper synthesizing the workshop’s main results will be prepared and some authorities have already signaled interest in feeding these results into ongoing consultations. Beyond contributing to the implementation process, these results will also feed into CLEVER’s research on policy analysis (WP4, 5) and stakeholder engagement (WP8).  

Written by Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert (UFR) and Jan Börner (UBO).

Photo by Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert (UFR).

Promoting biodiversity conservation and sustainable policies

A recent study published in Nature has analyzed the environmental crisis resulting from the undervaluation of nature. This publication emphasizes the pivotal role of understanding diverse values associated with nature when designing policies that promote biodiversity conservation while minimizing economic and social trade-offs.

The study highlights the “values crisis”, a phenomenon rooted in the undue emphasis on economic values in decision-making, neglecting the profound and multifaceted ways in which people treasure the natural world. To tackle this crisis, it advocates for four essential “values-centered approaches”: recognizing the multitude of values, integrating them into policy decisions, reforming existing policies, and reshaping societal norms.

The  special issue entitled “Leveraging Nature’s Values for Transformative Change: Insights from the IPBES Values Assessment”, published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, follows the Nature publication mentioned above, bringing together 14 articles based on in-depth reviews of different strands of the literature on nature’s values. This review delves into the fundamental role of nature in shaping policy decisions, drawing insights from the  IPBES Values Assessment.

In the face of the ongoing nature crisis, this special issue is a powerful reminder of the need to reimagine how our value-based decisions influence our relationship with the environment.

This work serves as an invaluable guide for the CLEVER project in designing policies that not only preserve biodiversity but also harmonize with diverse societal values.

Written by BC3

Source of cover image: “Leveraging Nature’s Values for Transformative Change: Insights from the IPBES Values Assessment” – BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change – Klima Aldaketa Ikergai (bc3research.org)

Towards multidimensional CLEVER biodiversity indicators

Measuring the extent of human-driven impacts on biodiversity is methodologically and practically complex – often, due to the inherent limitations in currently available biodiversity data. CLEVER researchers at the Centre for Remote Sensing (CSR) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) take on the challenge of using advanced modeling techniques to develop  innovative models that estimate current and baseline patterns of biodiversity in CLEVER’s focus regions – South America and Africa. University of Bonn researchers recently visited the CSR in Belo Horizonte to discuss results from these models – as well as potential future uses and applications.

Results thus far suggest that, when comparing differences between baseline models and current biodiversity, there have been major human-driven decreases in both species richness and endemism in southern Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. Other major decreases in endemism were found particularly along the Patagonia, Africa’s northeastern coast, and the Horn of Africa. Next steps will include technical improvements in the models to improve their predictive capacity and include other dimensions of biodiversity.

We also exchanged ideas and discussed future research questions and applications of the modelled data, including: the analysis of agricultural supply-chains and agri-environmental policies, the pairing of these models with data on land tenure in Brazil, as well as future CLEVER work involving life-cycle analyses and integrated assessment models aiming to estimate biodiversity impacts of different trade-flows.

Written by Andrea Pacheco.

Picture credits: Andrea Pacheco and Britaldo Soares Fliho

Cover photo by josefurlan_pissol/Adobe Stock

Mapping international and local forest and ecosystem-related policies and governance mechanisms

Exciting News! Our CLEVER researchers Laila Berning, Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert, Mathias Cramm and Metodi Sotirov published their latest research. They conducted a comprehensive analysis of forest and ecosystem-related policies and governance mechanisms.

Through extensive research and data analysis, they have compiled a comprehensive Excel database and identified six overarching policy and governance types. These types cover various levels of compulsion, actor participation, and geographical scopes, helping us better understand the regulatory landscape of regulating biomass supply chains for legality and sustainability at international and local levels!

Stay tuned for more insights into a selection of policies and governance mechanisms from the EU, Brazil, Cameroon, and Gabon! 

The following research activities will largely focus on the influences of the new EU Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR). The researchers will see how enterprises, NGOs and state actors react to the EUDR. They will also dive deep into analyzing the role of national policy and governance initiatives from Brazil, Cameroon and Gabon under and beyond the EUDR. 

These research activities will help us better understand the unfolding impacts of the EUDR and the implications for deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss. Their insights will support identifying how global agricultural and forest commodity value chains can become more sustainable, both in terms of socio-economic and environmental impacts.

Get all the details here:

Final report: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.8328016

Excel database: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.8326909

Written by Laila Berning – University of Freiburg

Image by witsarut/AdobeStock

New paper on corporate accountability in commodity supply chains under the EU Deforestation Regulation

CLEVER Researchers Laila Berning and Metodi Sotirov (University of Freiburg) published the paper “Hardening corporate accountability in commodity supply chains under the European Union Deforestation Regulation” in the Wiley Regulation & Governance journal.

They analyze the EU Deforestation Regulation by drawing on accountability scholarship and institutionalist theories of regulation. The results show that the Regulation aims to enhance corporate accountability mechanisms through mostly state-based hard regulation of commodity supply chains, reducing the role of market incentives and private regulation. 

Read the paper here: https://doi.org/10.1111/rego.12540

Image by Adobe Stock/Stratocaster

Evaluating trade regulations in Forest-risk Commodities to protect biodiversity

The world’s forests and the biodiversity they harbour are significantly impacted by the global trade in forest and agricultural Forest-risk Commodities (FRCs), commodities whose production or extraction might contribute to deforestation or forest degradation, such as timber and soy. In the context of increasing international and domestic demand for these products, it is essential to understand how trade-offs and synergies of public policy and governance initiatives (e.g. conflicting social, economic and environmental goals) regulating global FRC value chains affect forest biodiversity. The CLEVER work packages 4 and 5, presented by Laila Berning and Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert at the forest policy science conference in Freiburg (Forstpolitikwissenschaftstreffen Freiburg), investigate this research question.

The three-day conference brought together international scientific researchers who study the interrelations of governance and politics in the realm of forest and environmental conservation through different angles of discourse, legitimacy, power, communication, management and more. The CLEVER project featured in a poster exhibition, sparking interesting discussions around the topics of commodity value chains, mixed policy regulations, and biodiversity conservation.

The CLEVER research teams from the University of Freiburg, the European Forest Institute, and TU Dresden, together with their research partners from Brazil (Center for Advanced Amazonian Studies, University Federal do Pará), Cameroon and Gabon (University of Dschang) are investigating the trade-offs and synergies between the European Union (EU) and tropical producer countries. By conducting a mapping of key policy and governance initiatives and value chains (Brazil-EU soy, wood pulp, and timber value chains, Cameroon-EU and Gabon-EU timber value chain, and India-EU key forest-risk commodities), the researchers will identify key leverage points for enhancing biodiversity conservation.

To identify the right mix of policy and governance initiatives, the CLEVER team is also interviewing a range of demand and supply-side stakeholders from governmental authorities, non-governmental organizations, certification bodies, research organizations, and the private sector. The project’s findings will help policymakers and stakeholders make informed decisions about sustainable biomass production and trade.

If you have any inquiries about the work packages, you can contact CLEVER project team leader at Freiburg Metodi Sotirov (metodi.sotirov (at) ifp.uni-freiburg.de), Laila Berning (laila.berning (at) ifp.uni-freiburg.de) or Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert (rafaella.ziegert (at) ifp.uni-freiburg.de).

Dr. Metodi Sotirov, Laila Berning and Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert – University of Freiburg

Written by Laila Berning and Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert – University of Freiburg