IPBES – a new assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Five years after the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first assessment of the Earth’s ecosystem services, was released the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has been proposed to carry out regular scientific assessments of the what science knows about biodiversity and ecosystem services.

While there has been substantial agreement that a followup to the MA was needed there has not been agreement on how to do it.  Like the MA, this new panel will be modelled on the IPCC and it will probably meet in 2011.   It is supposed to conduct periodic assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services at global, regional and sub-regional scales that address policy relevant questions, identify research gaps, and build capacity to address these issues.

The MA had a huge impact on the research community, changing the questions that many scientists, including myself decided to address.  Hopefully, this new panel will provide a useful focus for ecosystem service research, however I worry a bit about an over focus on biodiversity, and a lack of attention to agriculture, soils, water, and social change all of which are essential to understand ecosystem services.

Also while there has been ongoing concern about how to create and fund an ecosystem service assessment, and has also been a lot of concern over who would operate it (i.e. that it have a strong scientific foundation), as well as how it will fit with ongoing global change research programs such as IHDP and PECS, as well as DIVERSITAS. These things remain unclear for IPBES.

Nature reports:

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.

It will be interesting to see how IPBES evolves. I think it is very important that an excellent team of broad thinking scientists with experience in large scientific assessment are chosen to lead this project.

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