20.01.2015 - Natural Sciences Sector

IPBES forges ahead with its mission to assess the planet’s state of biodiversity and ecosystems

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The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which was created to provide policymakers with reliable, independent and credible information on the status of biodiversity, agreed on 19 January to initiate a set of regional assessments in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. These assessments will be a vital contribution for a planned global assessment to be completed by 2019.

One of the first two IPBES assessments, to be available as early as December 2015, will look at pollination and food production and it will be accompanied by another assessment on biodiversity scenarios and modelling. The latter will review existing methods to model future changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services as a result of various socio-economic pathways. These two assessments will be the first in a series of ambitious biodiversity assessments that IPBES hopes will inform policy decisions.

Overall, the work of the Platform will require contributions from thousands of scientists from all over the world in the fields of natural and social sciences, as well as the involvement of indigenous people and local communities. They will work together to synthesize, review, assess and critically evaluate relevant knowledge and produce tools in order to support the creation of the best possible policies.

“The climate change conference in Paris in 2015 will highlight the importance of the conservation of biodiversity and address the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “I am convinced that a convergence between the efforts of IPBES and those of IPCC will strengthen the knowledge base to counteract the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem benefits – this is essential for the planet and for humanity, and UNESCO is deeply committed to taking this forward."

Around 700 delegates from over 270 governments, scientific organizations, civil society and the private sector attended the Platform’s third meeting, which was held from 12 to 17 January in Bonn, Germany. IPBES Member States present at the meeting adopted a conflict of interest policy and a stakeholder engagement strategy that will support the implementation of the Platform’s work programme and approved the guidance on strategic partnerships and other collaborative arrangements.

Governments established IPBES in 2012 in response to concerns about the lack of policy-relevant information to tackle threats to biodiversity. The platform’s aim is to enable decision makers to make well-informed decisions that could halt biodiversity loss, and thus promote human wellbeing and sustainable development through the sustainable use of biodiversity.

In only one year since the Platform’s work programme was adopted, more than 20 workshops were organized involving the participation of more than 500 experts and seasoned scientists, who have committed their time and energy to the cause of IPBES.

Malaysian Zakri Abdul Hamid, the founding Chair of IPBES, noted that in addition to addressing the needs of relevant multilateral environmental agreements, the Platform aims to improve the dialogue between policymakers and the scientific community on the critical importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services.  

As evidenced by the proposals to include biodiversity as a stand-alone target in the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, the international community is becoming increasingly aware of the links between biodiversity, sustainable development and human well-being. The ambitious work programme of IPBES reflects the monumental challenge faced by the international community to halt and reverse biodiversity loss,” said Professor Zakri.

Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the IPBES Secretariat, is aware of the challenges that lie ahead despite the progress made in the first year of implementation of the Platform’s work programme.

The Platform got off to a good start this year by engaging hundreds of experts in its work programme and by integrating in all its functions a conceptual framework that takes into account the complex relationships between people and nature and the different value systems that exist,” said Dr. Larigauderie. “However, the rate of biodiversity loss is alarming, which makes the work of IPBES more pressing than ever.”

To strengthen the science-policy interface that will support governments in their endeavours to protect biodiversity, IPBES will draw on the expertise of four UN bodies: the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme.

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IPBES was established in April 2012 in Panama City, Panama, and currently has 123 Member States. The Platform is an independent intergovernmental body, open to all member countries of the United Nations. Four UN Organizations - UNESCO, FAO, UNDP and UNEP – are working hand in hand in support of biodiversity. The IPBES secretariat operates from Bonn in Germany.

Biodiversity from terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems provides the basis for ecosystems and the services they provide that underpin human wellbeing. However, biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate and the world failed to reach the Convention on Biological Diversity target of a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

In order to address this challenge, adequate local, national and international policies need to be adopted and implemented. To achieve this, decision makers need scientifically credible and independent information that takes into account the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. They also need effective methods to interpret this scientific information in order to make informed decisions. The scientific community also needs to understand the needs of decision makers better in order to provide them with relevant information.

IPBES was established to this end. It provides a mechanism recognized by both the scientific and policy communities to synthesize, review, assess and critically evaluate relevant information and knowledge generated worldwide by governments, academia, scientific organizations, non-governmental organizations and indigenous communities.

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