International body will organise global response to protect ecosystems that underpin all life - including economic life'
guardian.co Friday 11 June 2010 17.11 BST
World governments voted last night to set up a major new international body to spearhead the battle against the destruction of the natural world.
With growing concern about the human impacts of destruction of habitats and species from around the world, from riots over food shortages and high prices, to worsening floods, and global climate change, more than 80 governments voted to take action in the final hours of a week-long conference in Busan, South Korea.
The Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), also dubbed "the IPCC for nature", will be modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, which has been credited with driving global warming and climate change from a fringe scientific issue to mainstream public and political concern.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: "The dream of many scientists in both developed and developing countries has been made reality. Indeed, IPBES represents a major breakthrough in terms of organising a global response to the loss of living organisms and forests, freshwaters, coral reefs and other ecosystems that generate multi-trillion dollar services that underpin all life - including economic life - on Earth."
Caroline Spelman, the UK environment secretary, said: "Alongside climate change, biodiversity loss is the greatest threat we face. Our very way of life is linked to the natural world; the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink; as well as providing the habitats for the Earth's millions of species of plants and animals. IPBES will provide governments and policy makers across the world with independent and trusted scientific advice so that we can take action to protect the world's natural environment."
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, will produce regular assessments of the state of biodiversity at international, regional and "sub regional" levels, mirroring the IPCC's five-yearly global assessments of global warming and its impacts. It will also develop research and conservation in developing countries, stimulate research in areas not covered, and advise policy-makers, said Professor Bob Watson, vice chair of IPBES and chief scientist at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
It will focus on "poverty alleviation, human well-being and sustainable development", he said. A recommendation to set it up will now be voted on by the UN at its meeting in September.
"It's just possible that in Busko, Korea, a significant step forward has been made towards a renewed global approach to tackle the loss of biodiversity and its consequences for the natural world and the people," said Robert Bloomfield, coordinator of the International Year of Biodiversity in the UK. "Crucially it would bring more closely together the analysis of the scientific evidence of biodiversity loss and its impact alongside the development of policy responses - this has been lacking. Then, as with the IPPC, such an overarching body would also help put biodiversity in the media spotlight - where it needs to be.
"It will be up to all the parties, including science, international governance and the media, to make sure that such a development is open to scrutiny and effective in delivering the action needed to mainstream the response required to tackle the underlying causes of a problem which has disastrous consequences if not urgently addressed.
New UN science body to monitor biosphere
'IPCC for biodiversity' approved after long negotiation
All creatures great and small: A newly approved global science organization to oversee life on earth will have its work cut out for it.Cesar Paes Barreto
Representatives from close to 90 countries gathering in Busan, Korea, this week, have approved the formation of a new organization to monitor the ecological state of the planet and its natural resources. Dubbed the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the new entity will likely meet for the first time in 2011 and operate much like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In essence, that means the IPBES will specialize in "peer review of peer review", says Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Programme, which has so far hosted the IPBES birth process. Its organizers hope that its reports and statements will be accepted as authoritative and unbiased summaries of the state of the science. Like the IPCC, it will not recommend particular courses of action. "We will not and must not be policy prescriptive", emphasized Robert Watson, chief scientific advisor to the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a vice-chair of the Busan meeting. "That is critical, or it will kill the process."
According to the document approved June 11, IPBES will conduct periodic assessments of the diversity of life on earth and its 'ecosystem services'-those outputs of ecosystems, such as clean fresh water, fish, game, timber and a stable climate, that benefit humankind. These assessments will answer questions about how much biodiversity is declining and what the implications of extinctions and ecosystem change are for humanity. Assessments will take place on global, regional and sub-regional scales.
IPBES will also take a hand in training environmental scientists in the developing world, both with a to-be-determined budget of its own and by alerting funders about gaps in global expertise. The organization will also identify research that needs to be done and useful tools-such as models-for policymakers looking to apply a scientific approach to such decisions as land management.
In Busan, negotiations stretched late into the night as delegates debated the scope of the proposed IPBES, including the specifics of how it will be funded. "There was concern among the developed countries that this not become a huge bureaucracy," says Nuttall. "Governments wanted to be reassured that it would be lean and mean and streamlined."
Another bone of contention was to what extent IPBES would tackle emerging issues or areas of contested science. In the end, it was agreed that the body will draw attention to "new topics" in biodiversity and ecosystem science. "If there had been something like this before, then new results on issues such as ocean acidification, dead zones in the ocean and the biodiversity impacts of biofuels would have been rushed to the inboxes of policymakers, instead of coming to their attention by osmosis," says Nuttall.
Among the governments who assented to the IPBES's creation were the European Union, the United States, and Brazil. The plan will come before the general assembly of the United Nations, slated to meet in September, for official approval. Those involved with the process say that that the UN creation of the new body is a virtual certainty.
Anne Larigauderie, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity science clearing house Diversitas, was jubilant at the outcome but said that the final agreement included a few disappointments. She hoped that IPBES would be set up to take requests for information or reports not only from governments and biodiversity-
Larigauderie suggests that this organizational structure represents an effort by governments to control potentially embarrassing information. "We were struck with the fear in governments," she says. "To them, scientific information represents a potential threat."
Hugh Possingham, a mathematical ecologist at the University of Queensland, Australia, specializes in decision-making tools for use by governments and conservation organizations. He says IPBES will have to make predictions to be useful. "Until we can make forward projections of meaningful biodiversity metrics under different policy scenarios, biodiversity is not even at the policy table," he says.
Watson says that IPBES will indeed make predictions, as its charge is to conduct "comprehensive" assessments.
Larigauderie say that IPBES has the potential to turn the "fragmented" field of biodiversity research into a more coordinated "common enterprise" that will lead to better predictive models of future biodiversity changes.
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