Technology for a Nature-Positive Agenda
As nature declines, so will humanity’s quality of life.
The WWF Living Planet Report 2022 found that, since 1970, global wildlife populations have declined by a staggering 69%. Restoring wetlands, mountains, forests, marine ecosystems, and the species they host, is vital for solving biodiversity loss while addressing its twin crisis – climate change.
In Europe, unsustainable farming and forestry, urban sprawl, and pollution are on top of the list for a drastic decline in Europe’s biodiversity. As much as 81% of habitats in the EU are in poor condition, making the Union realize that preserving nature must be an essential pillar under the EU Green Deal.
In June 2022, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Nature Restoration Law, the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind that calls for binding restoration targeting specific habitats and species. EU Member States are expected to submit National Restoration Plans to the European Commission and within two years show how they will deliver on the targets.
Collaboration is the way forward
Cooperation among governments, businesses, and third parties is undoubtedly the way to push forward the target delivery. Therefore, in Europe, companies and financial institutions are encouraged to take steps towards integrating biodiversity and nature-positive business models. At Huawei, we believe that technology has the enabling power to drive digital and green twin transitions. Innovation is the driving force behind technology’s potential for monitoring and protection nature. In Europe and globally, Huawei is working with environmental protection organizations and partners on projects that aim to explore using ICT to protect forests, wetlands, and oceans and restore nature. We are keen to build a cooperation ecosystem to continue developing and deploying nature-positive solutions and call on the industry at large for broader collaboration and results.
In 2022, Huawei joined the EU Business @ Biodiversity Platform, a unique forum to discuss the links between business and biodiversity at the EU level. We were thus honored to participate in the 2022 European Business and Nature Summit in Brussels. Leading on social and environmental sustainability, I presented our TECH4ALL solutions and discussed how to upscale the enabling role of ICT and the impact it has on nature restoration, alongside a panel of experts from UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Landbanking Group, S&P Global Sustainable, and Capitals Coalition.
Assess, Commit, & Transform: Digital technology enables biodiversity conservation
Huawei’s technology solutions for nature and wildlife conservation has been deployed across the EU since 2021 to three typical ecosystems: forests, oceans, and wetlands. A bottom-up and collaborative approach has enabled Huawei to make its solutions at the disposal of natural ecosystems and local communities. Innovation has the potential to upscale and replicate across multiple scenarios, including sectors such as agriculture.
On the South Coast of Ireland, where one-third of the world’s cetaceans live, Huawei has worked with ORCA Ireland – the Ocean Research & Conservation Association – since March 2021 to deploy acoustic technology powered by autonomous underwater microphones and AI. Researchers can now record whales and analyze vast amounts of data to understand the distribution of cetaceans, their behaviors, seasonal trends, and how noise pollution disrupts the marine ecosystem, ultimately optimizing marine spatial planning and building protected areas. In addition, the solution is reliable and resistant to atmospheric changes, assisting researchers in collecting data even in the winter. Integrating ICT solutions in the field can help improve the quality of work and create a safer home for whales and dolphins.
In Greece’s Aoos Gorge, illegal logging and poaching became difficult to control due to the harsh terrain and limited human and financial resources, increasingly threatening the survival of the Balkan chamois and other wildlife. Huawei has cooperated with Rainforest Connection (RFCx) since January 2021 to provide real-time monitoring of the chamois habitat using the Nature Guardian system. These are solar-powered audio devices that can detect ambient sounds within a 7-km2 area, including the sounds of direct threats to wildlife, poachers’ gunshots and the chainsaws of illegal loggers, providing an “acoustic shield” for the chamois. Biodiversity loss often seems a high-level concern that local communities may be unaware of, but the Guardians have offered the local community a trustworthy source that keeps them informed about ongoing illegal activities, which has encouraged people to proactively contribute to protecting their national park.
Rainforest Connection’s Lawrence Whittaker installing a Guardian in Aoos Gorge
In Italy, home to the richest biodiversity in Europe, habitat loss, poaching and climate change have placed at least 250 local species at risk of extinction. Huawei joined forces with RFCx and WWF Italy to deploy 10 networked Guardian devices and 45 offline edge Audiomoth devices in three oases sites: Orbetello Lagoon and Burano Lake in Grosseto and Astroni Crater in Naples. An interesting architectural feature of the Astroni Crater is that a wall surrounds it to keep out poachers. But sounds of threats, such as gunshots or motorbike engines, still go unnoticed until the acoustic system was installed to pick them up in real-time and transmit it across a network interpreted by AI analytics.
When the AI recognizes the sound of a threat, the platform sends an alert to rangers’ phones which can investigate in near-real-time and ensure prompt intervention. The deployment of the Nature Guardian system also offers the opportunity to improve human-machine collaboration where conservation efforts are harnessed and maximized by the use of advanced technologies.
Read more: Protecting an Oasis of Biodiversity in Italy
Restoring Nature: Maximizing the potential of technologies to build resilience
Besides tackling biodiversity loss, innovative technologies and solutions are used to address its twin crisis – climate change. Between 1990 and 2020, an area larger than the EU was lost to deforestation with EU home to about 10% of global losses. To fight this twin crisis, the European Parliament is now demanding companies to ensure that products sold in the EU do not come from deforested or degraded land. But climate action is not only driven by adaptation but also mitigation; the adoption of advanced technologies can help to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement overall.
Greece has 3.62 million hectares of natural forest, extending over 27% of its land area. Protecting old-growth forests is vital, as they hold far more carbon than younger forests, helping to protect us from our own fossil-fuel emissions. Huawei teamed up with the local start-ups to deploy cutting-edge technologies with sensors and drones for detecting forest fires and sending on-time warnings in the only remaining old-growth forest in Syngrou Estate.
And in Switzerland, we are deploying blockchain-based technology with our partners to ensure the transparency and efficiency of CO2 measurements in the Swiss National Park. Together with the IUCN Green List and the Porini Foundation, a 3D MODEL has been deployed to ensure the accuracy of each tree’s CO2 measurement, which enables funding for biodiversity measures.
Upscaling the impact
With innovative solutions and success cases available, there is always one common challenge the whole industry face: how to achieve scalability and growth.
So, first, synergy should be created between governments, businesses, and third parties to enable a multiplier effect. No single company can handle all the technological and technical requirements alone. There are diverse scenarios requiring different modeling, solutions, and approaches. Here, governments also have the pivotal role in identifying local challenges and needs, and setting the requirements in collaboration with local civil societies, research institutes, and nature conservation specialists. Companies exist that can jointly provide affordable and reliable technologies that, especially for biodiversity protection, can endure the vulnerability of weather conditions.
Second, cross-sector talent is needed to drive innovation and to protect and not affect natural ecosystems. For example, ICT experts developing and deploying Tech4Nature solutions need to become aware of the ecological issues, while nature conservationists need to know the potential of technologies like AI in nature conservation.
Finally, financial sustainability is also a pillar that must be addressed. The State of Finance for Nature report from UNEP finds that approximately US$113 billion per year currently flows into nature-based solutions (using 2020 as a base year). The report finds investment ought to at least triple by 2030 if the world is to meet climate change, biodiversity and land degradation targets. While a business must realize that profits and environmental impact are compatible, public financing can motivate companies to develop tech for good. To achieve the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, investments should be directed to where nature positive results are achieved to maintain the momentum in the long run.
But businesses can also begin to embed coordinated metrics to measure performance on biodiversity and to integrate biodiversity as part of their business model. With the support of standardized regulatory frameworks implemented across the whole value chain and databases and methodologies to measure environmental risks and opportunities, our community can finally restore nature and guarantee a sustainable development, as asserted at the European Business Nature Summit 2022.
Read more about Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiatives in the environmental domain.
This post was co-authored by
Chen Ge, EU Public Affairs Manager, Huawei Technologies
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.