By Annika Hedberg and Stefan Sipka, courtesy of the European Policy Centre
Biodiversity is deteriorating rapidly in Europe and across the globe. There is, however, enormous untapped potential in the use of data and digital solutions to protect our natural resources.
Digital solutions have already proven to be extremely useful in monitoring biodiversity worldwide for decades. Going forward, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things can further improve the data management needed for monitoring, decision-making and law enforcement. They can also help green human activities, raise awareness about biodiversity-related challenges and encourage citizens to support necessary measures.
The European Commission put forward a renewed, more ambitious Biodiversity Strategy in May 2020, but much remains to be done. To ensure that digitalisation benefits biodiversity and the environment as a whole, the EU should:
• recognise and address the nature-related causes of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the looming climate and sustainability crisis, and devise nature-based solutions;
• align the implementation of the post-2020 Biodiversity Strategy with the digital age. The EU should optimise data management and the use of digital solutions (e.g. AI, sensors, robotics) for the benefit of ecosystem restoration and nature protection;
• design financing instruments in such a way that they help address the loss of biodiversity, including by improving relevant data management, basing investment decisions on gathered knowledge, and developing and deploying needed digital solutions;
• encourage collaboration between relevant stakeholders, be they global or European, to optimise relevant data collection and sharing;
• use data from satellites, sensors and other sources more readily to launch infringement procedures against member states that are not complying with environmental regulation and rules;
• as a global leader in monitoring nature, continue to contribute to international biodiversity efforts actively by improving global biodiversity databases and electronic information exchange;
• use policies and financial instruments to green the digital transformation. The EU and its member states should limit the environmental and climate footprint of digital solutions when using them to address biodiversity challenges.
Although often overlooked, the enhancement of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems is central to the green transition and development of a more resilient and competitive European economy. It is essential for our survival and is the basis of a functioning society.
This Discussion Paper is part of a European Policy Centre project that focuses on the synergies between the green transition and the digital transformation. Although challenging, the EU increasingly recognises the related benefits. The European Green Deal and the EU’s recovery efforts from the COVID-19 crisis emphasise these twin transitions strongly. Combining them into one endeavour could make digitalisation a key enabler for greater sustainability and contribute to a green recovery from the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, aligning the agendas will only enhance biodiversity and ensure healthier ecosystems.
Read the full paper here.
Annika Hedberg is Head of the Sustainable Prosperity for Europe Programme and Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre. Stefan Sipka joined EPC in 2018 as a Policy Analyst on the Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme to work on environmental policies and smarter use of resources.