Support for New Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Gathers Momentum
Five-Day IPBES Discussions Underline Need for Serious Strengthening of 'Science-Policy Links' to Reverse Declines
Nairobi, 9 October 2009-Momentum towards the establishment of a new international body to address the loss and degradation of the world's multi trillion dollar nature-based assets gathered pace at a meeting of close to 100 governments.
There was strong support that an intergovernmental panel, similar to the one that has catalyzed political action on the issue of climate change, is now needed to galvanize a step change in respect to the management of biodiversity and ecosystems.
Governments agreed that there was now an urgency to strengthen the link between science and policy so that the knowledge being generated by researchers across the globe gets turned into action by governments on the ground.
Delegates, who were meeting at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), agreed that a final meeting would be held in 2010 on whether to establish an Intergovernmental Panel or Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
2010 marks the International Year of Biodiversity when governments in 2002 agreed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said:" The deadline date for this decision on IPBES is significant. This is the year when the world had hoped to have turned the tide on the loss of biodiversity. This however is unlikely to be achieved which does not undermine the goal but speaks volumes of the need for an effective mechanism which IPBES could represent".
"This week's meeting has certainly moved the process a long way forward towards that opportunity. The vast majority of countries now agree that a body akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is now needed to translate the science into policies for positive change," he said.
"Indeed, the momentum here in Nairobi was encouraging-there is a clear recognition that the status quo is not an option. More discussions on the detail, the financing, the issue of capacity building for developing economies and the precise role of an IPBES is now needed. But a deadline has now been set for a full and final decision," he said.
Robert Watson, chief scientist at the UK's Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the chair of the meeting, said: "This week's meeting comes in the wake of mounting evidence of the serious and significant economic impact of the inadequacy of the current policy response".
"The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project, which UNEP hosts and whose final report will coincide with the biological diversity convention's crucial meeting in Nagoya next year, estimates that damage and degradation of ecosystems such as forests may be costing between $2 trillion and $5 trillion a year," he added.
Ibrahim Thiaw, Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, said: "This threatens not only human well-being and the achievement of the poverty-related Millennium Development Goals but the opportunity for a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy for the 21st century-we urgently need a step change in the way science and economics are translated into transformational policy decisions."
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 played a crucial role in alerting the world to the rapid loss of the planet's nature-based assets.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment revealed that ecosystems and biodiversity had declined more rapidly in the past 50 years than at any other time in human history. The four-year study on the use of the planet's natural resources released in 2005 noted that 60 percent of ecosystem services - benefits from ecosystems like water purification - have been degraded, that about a quarter of the earth's land is now cultivated and that human beings use 40 to 50 percent of all available freshwater.
"The message emanating from the Assessment is clear: unless these problems are addressed urgently, the degradation of ecosystem services and the irreversible loss in biodiversity will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations could obtain from ecosystems," said Angela Cropper, UNEP's deputy director during the opening of this week's meeting.
Despite the report's warning, the losses continue. "There seems to be a disconnect between the findings of the Assessment and the urgent changes required in the policies of governments," she added.
The five-day gathering of over 200 delegates from over 90 countries was convened to find the mechanism by which science can be linked to policy-making to stop the degradation.
"Often governments are called upon to make very unpopular decisions to stop the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity loss. For this reason such decisions should be supported, and such support should be based on the best available scientific evidence," John Michuki, Kenya's Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, told the audience.
While science helps to understand the challenges due to the loss in biodiversity and ecosystems and the solutions, it is increasingly clear that the science is fragmented along specific issues, lacks a complete overview on biodiversity and ecosystem services and it means nothing without the support of governments.
"Policy-makers need to catch up with the rapidly evolving science and the IPBES could provide governments with a forum for creating an independent and authoritative mechanism to fill this gap," added Mr. Thiaw.
The meeting also announced the International Year of Biodiversity 2010 that will include a yearlong campaign that will encourage worldwide action to safeguard biodiversity.
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