Steiner on the Creation of a Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystems

Busan, Republic of Korea, 7 June 2010 - His Excellency Lee Maanee, Minister of the Environment of the Republic of Korea; Hur Nam-sik, Mayor of the City of Busan; delegates, colleagues, friends,

Let me first give some big thanks to those governments that have provided support for this, the third meeting on whether to establish an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)-our hosts, the Republic of Korea; France; Germany; Japan; Norway; the United Kingdom and in addition, the European Commission.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank other United Nations organizations; the many Multilateral Environmental Agreements; scientific bodies; Non Governmental Organizations; UNEP staff and indeed individuals who have contributed their time, energy and insight towards preparing this meeting's documents.

This has tremendously assisted the UNEP Secretariat in preparing a working document on options for improving the science policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as additional information on the assessment landscape, status of biodiversity and ecosystem service indicators, capacity development for biodiversity and ecosystem services.

And options and criteria for selecting the secretariat, background on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and an indicative budget for an intergovernmental science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

I believe the preparation for the next five days in Busan has been thorough, inclusive and transparent and the detailed options paper on how, if an IPBES is agreed, it may look, feel and operate is well done and rich.

Here let me also thank the various informal groups, meetings of scientists and other fora who in various capacities have honed this agenda and provided serious and significant comments and inputs in the run up to Busan on behalf of us all here today.

And let me thank the Mayor of Busan for the welcome and hospitality extended to everyone here this week.

Honourable Minister Lee Maanee, distinguished delegates,

I will not dwell on the background and the journey that has brought us to Busan-I am sure we all know why we are here and the responsibility of the task.

In short, it is to bring closure to the fundamental question and debate as to whether an IPBES is needed.

I am sure we all have the desire to answer that question rather than add more meetings to an already over-burdened international, regional and national calendar.

I am sure we all also seek a fundamental and transformational response to the degradation and decline of ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Since the first meeting in Malaysia- and through the discussions prior to, during and after UNEP's Governing Council/GMEF in Bali this year-I have been clear that the merits or otherwise of establishing an IPBES is the responsibility of governments.

It remains the case: But today I would perhaps like to come share my assessment of where we are and where we need to go at this third meeting.

An IPBES may not be perfection in terms of what all countries want or believe is the ideal solution to the present state of the natural world.

But when you look at the imprecision and imperfections of the status quo-from the bewildering array of assessments, to the gulf between that science and policy-makers and more importantly the reality of what is happening to ecosystems and biodiversity on the ground-it is my considered opinion that an IPBES is necessary, needed and required as soon as is possible.

This gulf, in terms of science translating into a response, was clearly highlighted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) just a few weeks ago in respect to meeting the 2010 target to substantially reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity.

Not a single national report to the Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 showed a national target that had been met, despite important and significant achievements in conservation.

An IPBES can, if well-defined, well-thought out and properly supported with a well designed administrative structure, provide a path to streamlining what we have: provide improved precision and greater perfection to the existing landscape and plug the many current and future knowledge gaps.

In a sense it can bring greater governance to a highly fragmented and in many ways unwieldy scientific and assessment-landscape that has evolved piecemeal rather than by design.

In doing so I consider that an IPBES can contribute to less bureaucracy and a more cost effective and focused terrain than we have today.

And ultimately deliver what we all agree is centrally and crucially necessary-a decisive and defining global response to the breathtaking loss of our collective natural asset base.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like many of you here, one has experienced at first hand the challenges of bringing consensus science to bear on the complexity of the world.

In the past few weeks, we have launched two assessments by the UNEP-hosted International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management-one on metals, including specialty metals needed for the clean-tech industry, and one on priorities for sustainable development focusing on how the world will fuel and feed itself.

In New York, during the Prep Com for Rio+20, UNEP's Green Economy initiative launched a preview of its full report scheduled for later in the year.

The preview focused on the 'greening' of three sectors-fisheries, water and transport.

During the recent subsidiary body meeting of the CBD , held in Nairobi and to which many of you here were present, I attended the launch of the aforementioned Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 where the scientific conclusion, among many, was that from freshwaters to coral reefs, we may now be close to serious tipping points.

Meanwhile last week, on the eve of World Environment Day, UNEP launched a new report on the benefits and economics of ecosystem restoration-Dead Planet: Living Planet.

It highlighted not only successful restorations, but also ones that had failed perhaps in costly ways.

Before coming to Busan, I was in Rwanda with President Kageme and the actor and new UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Don Cheadle.

We were in the volcanoes national park for the traditional naming ceremony of baby gorillas where we also took the opportunity of launching an updated report, the Last Stand of the Gorilla.

A reminder of how close we have come, and continue to come, to losing such an iconic species and the importance of integrated assessments in terms of furthering the security and the prospects for biodiversity.

All of these reports were well covered by the international media.

Three points here: how can we bring the sum of the sometime differing conclusions; perspectives and indeed sectors of each of these reports together in what one might call a synthesis or indeed systems message?

Two: would a panel of the kind envisaged as an IPBES have brought new ideas, a different focus or a broader integration of the findings; clarity in terms of standards setting and the recommendations of these reports into the public-policy domain?

And three: Did you, as policy-makers see the reports or read the articles in the media?!!

In other words, did they bridge the gap between the latest science and assessments and you as policy-makers?

I ask this not as some TV quiz-show host.

But to underline the challenges nations face as the level of scientific, allied to economic and social knowledge, surrounding and linking to ecosystems and biodiversity literally pours out daily.

Because these were just five reports from UNEP-what about other UN agencies, NGOs, MEAs and university and research institute papers and reports that have emerged in just a matter of weeks?

Ladies and gentlemen,

While I believe the time is right to make a decision, it is in the end yours.

And if the answer is yes, then it is also your responsibility to decide how this idea may take flesh.

Up to you to decide from the options presented here-and other options that you may bring-as to whether or whether not it mirrors in some ways an IPCC; how often it might report; who should be on the panel; its budget; where it would be hosted and so on and so forth.

If you as governments decide for or against an IPBES, then Busan could also be the opportunity to chart a way ahead.

Would give time for a real discussion on how that IPBES might be formed alongside its roles, responsibilities and support.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are living through extraordinary times in terms of geopolitics, economics and knowledge-generation.

Extraordinary times too in terms of how humanity perceives its relationship with the natural world.

We had, perhaps in the 19th and 20th centuries, fabricated the illusion that somehow we could get by without ecosystems and biodiversity.

That human beings had, through technology and other inventions, freed themselves from the very living forces and systems that make the world go round and this planet habitable in the first place.

It is time that we put the sustainable management of these nature-based services and assets back into the centre of political, developmental and economic life-this is only possible through sound, solid and uncontested science.

Science that revels in the different approaches; encompasses all available knowledge bases including traditional knowledge and brings in the best available data from all corners of the planet in order to reach meaningful and actionable conclusions.

Science that can deliver to governments a thorough risk assessment backed by clear; cost effective and gear-shifting policy options and policy directions to the world's decision makers.

There are many 'missing links' in the race to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity and manage and restore lost and degraded ecosystems-this week, with a decision on an IPBES, you have the opportunity to build one significant one.

And in doing so make a major contribution towards making 2010-the UN's International Year of Biodiversity, a year less for hand-wringing and more for the history books.


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