Guest Article #11

Toward Full Operationalization of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

Biodiversity from ecosystems – terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water – provides services that are the foundation of economies, human well-being and sustainable development.

This is increasingly recognized in national and international policy fora, and reflected in the growing attention given by the scientific community to research on the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. However, the dialogue between the scientific community, governments, and other stakeholders needs to be strengthened to ensure decisions taken to address the challenges of biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services are based on the best available science. The other task is to ensure that the scientific research agenda is shaped by the information needs of governments and other decision-makers.

In June 2010, in Busan, Republic of Korea, governments agreed to establish the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to respond to information and capacity requests from governments and other stakeholders for scientific information on biodiversity and ecosystem services, including through responding to the needs of relevant Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and United Nations bodies. It was agreed in Busan that the four main functions of IPBES will be to:

  • identify and prioritize key scientific information needed for policymakers, and catalyze efforts to generate new knowledge;
  • perform regular and timely assessments of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services and their interlinkages;
  • support policy formulation and implementation by identifying policy-relevant tools and methodologies;
  • prioritize key capacity-building needs to improve the science-policy interface, as well as provide and call for financial and other support for the highest-priority needs related directly to its activities.

Governments also laid out key principles for the work of IPBES, including that IPBES will be independent from any existing body, and that it will provide policy-relevant advice, but will not be policy-prescriptive.

Since Busan, and as requested by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in December 2010 (Resolution A/65/162), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders to convene a plenary meeting in order to fully operationalize IPBES. The plenary meeting is being organized in two sessions, the first of which was held in Kenya from 3-7 October 2011, and the second of which will be held in Panama, from 16-21 April 2012.

The first session of the plenary meeting reaffirmed the principles and functions of IPBES, and made considerable progress on the more detailed functions of the platform and its governance structure. The meeting also agreed on a process and criteria for the selection of the host country and host institution(s) for the platform's secretariat, and had initial discussions on its legal status and work programme.

Three intersessional processes are now underway in advance of the second session: a review of draft elements of an initial IPBES work programme; the submission of suggestions relating to the procedures by which the platform will operate; and the submission of proposals by governments for the physical hosting of IPBES, and by institutions for administering the platform's secretariat.

It is anticipated that the second session of the plenary in April 2012 will then be in a position to finalize the modalities and institutional arrangements for the platform, and agree on an initial work programme, thereby resulting in IPBES becoming fully operational.

The work of IPBES will be of interest to the wide range of stakeholders involved in the fields of sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, natural resources management, and economics, both as potential contributors to the platform's work, but also through the use of its findings to support decisions of government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector that depend on, or affect, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

It's been a long time in the making, but a strengthened science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services is now just round the corner. Although 2012 will be a busy year with the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), Conference of Parties (CoPs) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, I also hope it will be the year in which IPBES gets on with its work.

Please find out more at http://www.ipbes.net.