Global Environmental Governance in the Digital Age

By Hammed A. Akande

Since the start of the industrial revolutions, society has witnessed significant advancements in different aspects of life. Such developments include improvements in construction, transportation, agriculture, and digital technologies. As good as these may sound, they often come at the detriment of other important spheres of life and threaten sustainability. Over the years, the planetary earth has witnessed the detrimental impact of these anthropogenic activities, including the changing climate and loss of biodiversity – all of which are important for ecosystem functioning.

Over time, scientists, government, and decision-makers have been working to mitigate the detrimental effects of anthropogenic climate change on the environmental, economics, and cultural domains of life. Furthermore, since the start of the fourth industrial revolution, following the introduction of artificial intelligence, blockchains, and other digital technologies, society has relied mainly on technology to manage different facets of life. Consequently, there has been an increasing demand for systems-based approaches towards addressing global environmental change and preventing biodiversity loss in the current digital age.

Earlier in 2021, I did an internship with Future Earth Canada and Sustainability in the Digital Age. The main project of my internship focused on Global Environmental Governance in the Digital Age. This was a collaborative project co-hosted by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Future Earth Canada, and the Sustainability in the Digital Age initiative. As a research assistant, I supported this project by organizing a high-level convening that attracted members from top global technology companies working on Sustainability. Also, I was in charge of coordinating the convening preparatory materials, assistance during the convening, and support in developing the convening report, which was submitted to UNEP.

This project built on the Digital Disruptions for Sustainability Agenda (D^2S Agenda) released by Sustainability in the Digital Age and Future Earth in 2020 focused on three main themes:

1. Identifying priority actions for UNEP and the broader community of collaborators working together at the intersection of digital transformation and sustainability.

2. Mapping the landscape of promising digital assets in North America to address global change and,

3. Exploring vital ethical considerations and policy actions when using digital assets

My internship’s project demonstrated the UNEP’s commitment to digital transformation and developed concrete recommendations to help inform a road-map for the UNEP 2022-2025 Medium-Term Strategy (MTS). This project also fostered collaboration among the invited stakeholders across North America working at the interface of Sustainability and digital technology.

Given the climate and other global change drivers can potentially lead to loss of biodiversity, livelihood and serves as threats to sustainable developments, it is crucial to use system-based approaches in the governance and management of environmental systems.

This will demand collaborations from multiple stakeholders, identifying existing resources and strengthen partnerships among them. In addition to that, using digital tools to govern global environmental systems will require input across sectors, regions, and scales. Therefore, successful integration of these inputs will depend on trust, the relationship among involved stakeholders and leveraging the afforded opportunities from digital tools.

Furthermore, I supported the Biodiversity Pathways to Sustainability Canada (BPSC) initiative. This project highlighted Canada’s contribution to the Aichi target over the past ten years. I assisted the team in project brainstorming at the initial development and reviewed over 600 published papers. The papers were reduced to 100 related to the project’s criteria, including research done in Canada and within the ecosystem management framework. All reviewed literature was done using Zotero and helped other interns to conduct further reviews while developing the BPSC report. In addition to that, I also assisted in coordinating interns, supported the BPSC workshop, and other activities as needed.

My internship experience exposed me to innovative ways by which society can utilize digital technologies in addressing global change problems. Importantly, I gained more insights on addressing gaps in solving environmental issues and how to advance data-sharing among stakeholders, researchers and in different parts of the world. It is essential to build collaboration between stakeholders working on environmental sustainability and digital transformation to successfully manage the natural environment. The convening expose me to innovative ways to strengthen partnerships between existing stakeholders and the need for digital literacy, especially in data-sparse regions of the world.

Hammed is a PhD student in Spatial Ecology at Concordia University, Canada, working at the Community and Quantitative Ecology Lab. His research is on modeling the impact of climate and land-use change on species distribution across varying spatial and temporal scales. Specifically, to understand the role of heterogeneity and how species can co-exist under different environmental scenarios. This is important to provide useful knowledge in guiding conservation efforts. Also, he’s among the first cohort of the NSERC Leadership in Environmental and Digital Innovation for Sustainability – LEADS program.

Keywords: System Change, Climate Change, Biodiversity, Environmental Governance, Digital Age