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ASU partnerships strengthen global biodiversity conservation efforts

Acuna cactus with a purple blossom.

The cactus Echinomastus cubensis is one of many endangered plants in the Sonoran Desert. ASU's Center for Biodiversity Outcomes works with the local Desert Botanical Garden and the IUCN Species Survival Commission as part of the Cactus & Succulent Plant Specialist Group to develop recovery strategies. Photo courtesy of Peter Breslin, School of Life Sciences PhD student

September 02, 2016

Arizona State University furthers commitment to translate knowledge into action on sustainability challenges through three new international partnerships:

  • Knowledge Partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD): promoting sustainable development through the global business community
  • The IUCN Red List Partnership: devising strategies for species conservation and biodiversity decision-making
  • Knowledge Partnership with Conservation International (CI): expanding conservation science and training to the next generation of conservation leaders

Bringing together the different forces in sustainability, ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes (CBO) has established new partnerships that strengthen the university’s research capacity in conservation science and biodiversity. The official signing of the agreements will take place in Hawaii during the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress.

“The time has arrived. The world needs interventions, globally and at scale,” explained Gary Dirks, director of ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “To have any kind of impact you've got to be able to reach tens if not hundreds of millions of people when you're talking about doing something for sustainability. There's no organization on the planet that can do that on their own.”

Meeting today’s biodiversity challenges requires innovative research, education, communication and policy strategies capable of responding to a rapidly changing biophysical, institutional and cultural landscape, added Leah Gerber, CBO founding director and ASU professor in the School of Life Sciences.

“With CBO, we have an opportunity to ‘experiment’ with institutional architecture that supports outcomes by drawing on the depth and breadth of scholarship in sustainability,” Gerber said.

WBCSD Knowledge Partnership

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a global, CEO-led organization of more than 200 leading businesses and partners working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world.

Member companies come from all business sectors and all major economies, representing a combined revenue of more than $8.5 trillion and 19 million employees. WBCSD is uniquely positioned to work with member companies along and across value chains to deliver impactful business solutions to the most challenging sustainability issues.

As WBCSD’s second global “Knowledge Partner,” ASU has the opportunity to bring scholarship, analytics and decision-making tools to the world’s largest companies.

“In an increasingly global environment, where sustainable management of biological resources is fundamental to long-term survival, we must seek creative solutions for the conservation of biodiversity. The Knowledge Partnership represents a new model to cultivate practical outcomes in sustainability,” said Gerber.

ASU will benefit from this partnership by having access to the largest network of world-class companies engaged in social and environmental sustainability, while having exposure to real-world problem-solving opportunities, events, internships and job opportunities. ASU scholars will be able to vet and test ideas and solutions in practice, apply knowledge to business sustainability, co-author and develop research papers, studies and projects, as well as review and critique sustainability reports. Having a seat at the table on substantive discussions with global companies will allow ASU to shape the way in which businesses approach their sustainability practices.

WBCSD benefits from the partnership through access to the university’s academic and technical expertise across a range of sustainability and business issues, markets, capacity building, as well as event organization and hosting support. ASU provides WBCSD with access to business sustainability education programs, online courses, conference and events that support their strategic planning in water, ecosystems and biodiversity, energy and climate, cities, food systems and circular economies. Likewise, WBCSD will be able to connect to existing ASU institutional and corporate networks.

“We’re excited about this new partnership with ASU because of our common goal to move the dial on sustainability,” said Peter Bakker, WBCSD’s president and CEO. “ASU’s broad range of interdisciplinary knowledge is a good match for forward-thinking companies who understand that the world is changing. Together, we can continue to encourage the global community to deliver sustainable science-backed solutions that enhance and strengthen development.”

IUCN Red List Partnership

The IUCN List of Threatened Species (or the IUCN Red List) is the world’s standard for quantifying species extinction risk and is used around the world to inform policy, planning and conservation action. The Red List Partnership serves as an important means to coordinate activities related to biodiversity assessment and analysis and to share information, expertise and insights in ways that enable parties to achieve their own strategic goals for science-based biodiversity conservation.

“All of the eight Red List Partners continuing in the next term have said they are very happy with ASU joining,” said Mike Hoffmann, chair of the IUCN Red List Committee. “We are thrilled with this outcome.”

As a Red List partner, ASU joins a group of global leaders charged with devising strategies for species conservation and biodiversity decision-making — being one of only three universities in the world to join forces with IUCN Red List to help guide the scope and application of scientific data.

Beth Polidoro, CBO associate director of research and an ASU New College assistant professor, has spearheaded this initiative.

“We are honored to join the Red List Partnership, which will provide extensive regional and global opportunities for ASU students and faculty to participate in applied biodiversity research and interdisciplinary educational opportunities while highlighting ASU-CBO as a global leader in species conservation and biodiversity decision-making,” she said.

From 2014-2016, CBO faculty affiliates completed Red List assessments for more than 1,800 species, in addition to reassessments for more than 200 mammals. They also completed the first comprehensive list of Sonoran Desert plants (more than 4,500 species). These accomplishments were possible thanks to the support of other partner organizations, such as the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo.

In addition, more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students have been trained in IUCN Red List assessment methodology and species information service data-entry protocols — a software that underpins the IUCN Red List and its biodiversity assessments. This information is reviewed by an independent scientific review team and then made available to the public. 

As a Red List Partner, ASU will take a leadership role in the global assessment and management of threatened and endangered species. This work is crucial in ensuring effective conservation of biodiversity. The Center for Biodiversity Outcomes efforts will continue to focus on marine species and Sonoran Desert plants, and will establish a satellite Red List Training Center.

CI Knowledge Partnership

Conservation International works in more than 30 countries across six continents to create solutions that protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods through an innovative blend of science, policy and partnerships.  A new ASU-CI Knowledge Partnership is the first of its kind between a large American public university and a U.S.-based international conservation nonprofit.

“To ensure a sustainable future, we need to maintain biodiversity and natural capital, which requires transforming the way we do conservation,” said Daniela Raik, senior vice president and managing director, the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science at CI. “The novel ASU and CI knowledge partnership does that by expanding scientific knowledge about complex social-ecological systems, applying this knowledge on-the-ground and training our next generation of conservation leaders.”

As part of the partnership, six scientists from CI’s Moore Center for Science will become professors of practice at ASU, conducting research and teaching. ASU scholars will co-develop research with CI and apply it in the field through conservation projects. Abigail York, CBO associate director of education and diversity and an ASU associate professor, has brought the professors-of-practice concept to fruition, offering ASU students an opportunity to engage with CI scientists in the classroom and at CI field sites.

The knowledge partnership focuses sustainable production methods, more specifically transitioning agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture producers, through science, engagement and technology. The partnership also focuses on training the next generation of conservation leaders, as well as bringing aboard two postdoctoral fellows.

“We understand our sustainability problems and our challenges,” said Rob Melnick, executive director, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “We have an enormous challenge ahead in globalizing what we do. On the other hand, if we don't globalize what we do, we will have failed.”

Written by Anahi Astudillo/Center for Biodiversity Outcomes

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