Linking Journalism with the Web of Life
By Naftali Mungai in Nairobi
A new international body aimed at catalyzing a global response to the loss of biodiversity and world’s economically-important forests, coral reefs and other
ecosystems was born on Monday (December 20th ) by governments at the
United Nations 65th General Assembly (UNGA), according to the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
It underlines a further success of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity
and should provide a boost to the International Year of Forests which begins in
January 2011, and the international decade of biodiversity, also beginning in
The adoption, by the UNGA plenary, was the last approval needed for setting up
an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
Governments gave a green light to its establishment in June at a meeting in
Busan, Republic of Korea, coordinated by the UNEP, but this required a
resolution to be passed at the UNGA.
The independent platform will in many ways mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which has
assisted in catalyzing worldwide understanding and governmental action on
The new body will bridge the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge on the accelerating declines and
degradation of the natural world, with knowledge on effective solutions and
decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends.
Its various roles will include carrying out high-quality peer reviews of the wealth of science on biodiversity
and ecosystem services emerging from research institutes across the globe in
order to provide gold standard reports to governments.
These reports will not only cover the state, status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems, but will also
outline transformational policy options and responses to bring about real
change in their fortunes.
The IPBES will achieve this in part by prioritizing, making sense of and bringing consistency to the great variety
of reports and assessments conducted by United Nations bodies, research
centres, universities and others as they relate to biodiversity and ecosystem
“IPBES represents a major breakthrough in terms of organizing a global response to the loss of living
organisms and forests, freshwaters, coral reefs and other ecosystems that underpin
all life--including economic life--on Earth,” said Achim Steiner, UN
Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
"2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, began on a mute note after it emerged that no single country
had achieved the target of substantially reversing the rate of loss of
biodiversity. But it has ended on a far more positive one that underlines a new
determination to act on the challenges and deliver the opportunities possible
from a far more intelligent management of the planet’s nature-based assets,” he
Builds on Biological Diversity Convention Achievements
Mr. Steiner said the sign-off by the UNGA came in the wake of the successes at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity that took place in Nagoya, Japan, in October.
Here governments adopted a new strategic plan including targets for addressing biodiversity loss to be met by 2020.
For example, governments agreed to increase the extent of land-based protected areas and national parks to 17 per
cent of the Earth's surface, up from around 12.5 per cent now, and to extend
marine protected areas to 10 per cent, up from under one per cent currently.
Other elements of the extensive plan include, by 2020 lifting the extinction risk from known threatened species.
The meeting agreed to study resource mobilization for assisting developing countries to meet the new targets in the plan based on a methodology that relates support to needs and gaps.
Other decisions included taking a 'precautionary approach' in terms of emerging areas such as geo-engineering in order to combat climate change and the development of synthetic biofuels.
Builds on Green Economy TEEB Successes
Nagoya also delivered a sea change in the global understanding of the multi-trillion dollar importance of
biodiversity and forests, freshwaters and other ecosystems to the global
economy and to national economies, and in particular for the "GDP of the
The case has been built via The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), an initiative hosted by UNEP,
requested by G-8 environment ministers as well as developing country ones and
supported by the European Commission and governments including Germany, Norway
and the United Kingdom.
The TEEB partnership also brings together a wide network of contributing organizations, institutes and
individuals from the world’s of science to economics from developing and
In Nagoya the final global TEEB report—a major stream of the UNEP Green Economy Initiative-- was launched as
countries including Brazil and India announced they would be launching their
own national TEEB studies.
A parallel and supporting partnership was also announced by the World Bank in collaboration with
organizations including UNEP to 'green' national accounts in order to
mainstream 'natural capital' within national economic and development plans.
The project is initially set to be implemented in between six and 10 countries including Colombia and Mexico.
Mr. Steiner said the formal go-ahead for an IPBES meant much of what had been possible in 2010 had been transformed into a reality.
He said the UNGA backing now triggered a series of steps needed to get the work of the new body up and running.
UNEP, as the interim Secretariat, will now organize a plenary or meeting of governments in 2011 to decide on
issues such as which country will house the independent IPBES and which
institutions will host it alongside other institutional arrangements.
A similar argument is made concerning the pros and cons of biofuels. IPBES could provide better early warning of such new topics to governments before decisions are taken.
While IPBES will support some capacity building in developing countries, its main role will be to catalyze
funding to assist developing country scientists and developing country
assessments through, for example, harnessing funding via UN agencies;
foundations and other sources.
Unraveling the precise role of animals, plants, insects and even microbes within ecosystems and their
functions in terms of the services generated--from water purification to soil
fertility--could also be a major thrust.
Some experts are convinced that many scientific discoveries, from the identification of new lower life forms to the
fast disappearance of others, can often remain within the corridors of research
institutes and universities for many years before they reach the wider world.
By that time is may be too late to act to either conserve or protect the species concerned whereas early warning might have put the species on the political radar giving it a better chance.
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