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).

Insights from the UNCTAD Conference on Trade and Biodiversity

How are biodiversity and the environment considered in global trade and commerce? One would think this question has been sufficiently answered, but the core of its debate has only started.

On March 25th and 26th, 2024, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held a timely conference on the intersection between trade and biodiversity. The event brought together esteemed panellists and stakeholders from around the globe to deliberate on strategies to mainstream biodiversity into global trade processes and explore how nature-positive trade can support sustainable development and existing international agreements. As the triple planetary crisis (climate change, air pollution, and biodiversity loss) calls for urgent action and the search for solutions has revealed a need for change in our economy and development model, consumption and trade are naturally at the center of the discussions. Sustainable trade practices have been coined as a strategy to combat the economic drivers of biodiversity loss, and this topic has been raised by other international conventions, such as in COP28, where the “Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action” was signed.

I participated in two panels, “Mainstreaming Biodiversity into WTO Processes” and “Nature Positive Trade for Sustainable Development”, gathering insights that shed light on the importance of our work at CLEVER. Despite being set in a high-level discussion format, international organizations were willing to share how their work has tried to bring trade and biodiversity together, highlighting challenges and opportunities.  Organizations such as the WTO, UNCTAD, FAO, UNEP, international NGOs, and others shared initiatives and projects around the bioeconomy, biotrade, blue economy, payment for ecosystem services (PES), true cost accounting, ecotourism, and others. The Global Biodiversity Framework seems to be the foundation for aligning their own strategic plans, while the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are also in sight.

The WTO stressed that their Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) are intended to complement the work of the Committee on Trade and Environment and other relevant WTO bodies, showing that this topic is becoming more relevant in the organization since their 2021 Ministerial Statement on Trade and Environmental Sustainability. UNEP, as part of their Economics and Ecosystems and Biodiversity initiative, emphasized the importance of assessing the true cost of food in order to transform food systems, and that as nature’s value becomes visible, smallholder farmers should not carry the burden of the transition alone.

The general challenge also remains that including environmental aspects in trade is not ‘natural’, as it can create barriers beyond price, market, and national trade interest. Thus, to understand the best way to do so, a systematic approach and a larger change of economy per se are needed. For this, strong political will is required. Nonetheless, although all agree this is essential, there was a call to include certain concepts from prior agreed conventions (e.g., UNFCCC), such as the “common but differentiated responsibilities”, since working with trade systems also means dealing with global and historical modes of development. This point also incited discussions on the risk of misusing environmental aspects in trade for protectionism and, thus, distorting the market (giving the EUDR and CBAM as examples).

There was also a demand for more integration among international organizations, such as the WTO cooperating with environmental agreements (CITES and CBD). Certain topics were held as essential leverage points to focus on, such as addressing the misuse of hazardous pesticides, subsidies, and promoting sustainable agriculture. The significant role of regional trade agreements was also highlighted. Among the initiatives presented were the WWF’s “Codex Planetarius” to establish minimum standards for globally traded food, the WTO’s environmental database, the FAO’s biodiversity knowledge hub, and the G20’s Bioeconomy Initiative

In conclusion, the UNCTAD conference served as a critical platform for stakeholders to exchange ideas, share best practices, and chart a course towards a more sustainable and equitable future for trade, as biodiversity and environmental aspects are considered. These insights closely relate to our work in CLEVER, as it adds to our research and discussions on how international trade in agricultural and forest products affect biodiversity. Studying these links through qualitative (policy and governance aspects) and quantitative (biodiversity metrics) methods, the CLEVER team has been investigating and developing solutions for a more sustainable production and consumption. Through a science-policy interface strategy, CLEVER research intends to present knowledge and tools to influence decision-making, in collaboration with stakeholders from politics, the private sector and civil society. Informing ourselves and being part of current international discussions on the topic is a crucial part of our work.

Written by Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert from the University of Freiburg.

Feature image by Rosa Castañeda and tawatchai07 from Freepik.

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).

New EU commodity trade rules and related challenges for the timber sector – Views from Cameroon 

Imagine you were a vendor selling products on the market. One day, some of your known, old buyers would start demanding assurances that your products fulfil certain requirements; or else, they can no longer buy from you. How would you react? Would you seek to fulfil the new, additional requirements or simply sell your products to other buyers, who demand less? Moreover, how might other concerned actors perceive this situation, such as the government, who regulates the marketplace? 

Together with Dr. Shidiki Abubakar Ali and Herman Zanguim from the University of Dschang, I was part of a research team set out to explore these and related questions in the context of the Cameroon-EU timber trade as part of the CLEVER project. In 2023, the EU adopted new market requirements in the Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) for timber and some other commodities and derived products. For timber, the new requirements expand on rules that have been so far in place as part of the EU Timber Regulation. According to the new rules, timber products can be imported to (or exported from) the EU market only if they are legally produced and free of deforestation and forest degradation. With our team, we discussed emerging challenges and how to address them in Cameroon – a country producing and exporting tropical timber – with actors from State institutions, timber businesses, certification bodies, NGOs and the civil society, international organizations, and research and training institutions. 

A production forest in Cameroon. Photo by Herman Zanguim (UDS)

We found out that awareness of the EUDR is high but knowledge of its details on average is still low among the actors. The EUDR can be seen as complex as it contains a lot of details and technicalities, such as definitions of concepts like deforestation or forest degradation. An issue raised by many was that the EU has poorly communicated about the EUDR and what it might imply for a country like Cameroon. This may, in turn, have led to current lower levels of understanding of the EUDR and even misunderstandings of it, such as that the EU would be encroaching on other countries’ sovereignty with it. 

Different stakeholders in Cameroon also found that the EU had insufficiently involved actors in countries outside of the EU in the development of the EUDR, calling for a more participatory approach. Another point made by many was that the EUDR is perceived as overly restrictive and punitive for countries such as Cameroon that still have large areas of forests standing. Actors said that to achieve meaningful impacts, regulations like the EUDR should be more supportive and incentivizing for better governance in the countries where commodities are produced. According to them, a restrictive and punitive approach that they see with the EUDR is doomed to fail in its implementation due to lack of enabling conditions and support in countries of commodity production.

Logs stored at a sawmill in Cameroon. Photo by Mathias Cramm (EFI)

Timber businesses, on the other hand, did not appear too fussed about the EUDR. They believe themselves to be well prepared for its application, also because of existing EU regulations like the EU Timber Regulation. And what if their products were no longer accepted “as is” in the EU market? Their response was: Demand is high in Asian markets and buyers from African markets are also increasingly knocking on their door. Thus, there might be no shortage of alternative buyers for their timber products. 

It remains to be seen what the real impacts of the EUDR on countries like Cameroon, their timber industry, and their forests will be, after its application begins in 2024-2025. What will happen to the Cameroon-EU timber trade? How will Asian businesses, who import Cameroonian timber and re-export it to the EU, react? Will implementation and enforcement of the EUDR in the EU be possible and effective? Only time will tell, and we’ll hopefully follow the process from the researchers’ point of view. 

Written by Mathias Cramm from the European Forest Institute.

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

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