Governments Give Green Light to International Body on Biodiversity

11 June 2010

Governments meeting in the South Korean port city of Busan have voted to establish an international body to mitigate the destruction of the world’s flora and fauna. If approved by the UN General Assembly, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will be an independent platform modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which many credit with helping to catapult climate change to the forefront of the global agenda.

Plans to create the institution have been underway since May 2008, when a concept note was prepared and presented at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP 9) in Bonn, Germany. Several revisions have taken place based on input from an array of countries, scientific institutions, and civil society organisations from both the developed and developing world.

Challenges of multilateralism overcome

While the creation of the IPBES has been strongly supported by several countries, including France, Japan, and the UK, others have expressed concern over the cost of establishing an additional intergovernmental body – particularly in the current economic climate. Another concern voiced by some countries relates to the extent of the IPBES’s powers.

While many supporters were hopeful that countries would reach an agreement at the 7-11 June meeting in Busan, it was not a foregone conclusion. Those close to the development of the body expressed delight at the positive outcome.

"The dream of many scientists in both developed and developing countries has been made reality,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which coordinated the Busan meeting. “Indeed, 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 generate multi-trillion dollar services that underpin all life—including economic life—on Earth".

Steiner also used the opportunity to applaud countries for their effort and dedication to the multilateral process, which has been doubted by some following the inability of countries to reach a global climate deal last December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"It is also an important day for multilateralism in this, the UN's International Year of Biodiversity,” Steiner said. “There remained disagreements between governments as they entered this week's third and final meeting…but nations put aside the smaller differences that divided them in favour of the far bigger areas of consensus that finally united them.”

IPBES to act as “gold standard” research repository

The new body aims to carry out high quality peer reviews of science on biodiversity and ecosystem services emerging from research institutes across the globe. Organisers say the IPBES will allow governments to access reports that adhere to the body’s “gold standard” of quality. These reports and assessments will come from a variety of sources, including various UN bodies, research centres, universities, and others relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Because of the sheer number of institutions producing a myriad of studies – including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Global Biodiversity Outlook, and the Global Forest Resources Assessment – IPBES proponents say an international body is needed to ensure these are translated into meaningful and decisive action by governments on the ground and in global and national planning.

Other areas that will fall under the mantle of the IPBES include the identification and dissemination of cutting edge science on biodiversity, capacity building in developing countries, and unravelling 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.

If the motion to create the IPBES is approved at the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, which opens in September, it will then be presented for endorsement by environment ministers attending the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial at its next session scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya in February 2011.

ICTSD Reporting.

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