Deliberations continue at the second IPBES plenary session

This week delegates from the United Nations have been participating in the second plenary meeting to establish an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Taking place in Panama City, Panama, from 16th – 21st April, the purpose of the meeting is to consider the draft work programme for the IPBES, the structure and function of subsidiary bodies that might be established under IPBES and to decide upon the geographical location of the secretariat.

The meeting is being chaired by the UK’s own Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, Professor Sir Robert Watson. On the first day of the meeting, Professor Sir Watson presided over a decision to vote upon the location of the secretariat for IPBES, rather than to achieve this decision via consensus. This decision resulted in the five countries who had bid to host the secretariat delivering their pitches to delegates from the stage on Wednesday morning, day three of the meeting, a process described by one delegate as equiavelent to ‘American Idol’. Of the five bids, from the Republic of Korea, Kenya, Germany, France and India, the German bid came with the most financial backing. Elsa Nickel, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety pledged $1.3 million US annually to the IPBES trust fund, plus $6.5 million US annually for capacity building activities and $850,000 US to support conferences, travel costs and studies.

In deciding upon the bids, delegates interviewed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) for the Earth Negotiations Bulletin stressed the need for the basis to be whether the host country was biologically diverse and which had the greatest committment to biodiversity protection policies. The vote on the host country for the IPBES secretariat was held last night, with Germany finally selected as the successful candidate, beating the Republic Korea in the final round of a run-off vote with 47 votes to 43. In pitching to delegates, Elsa Nickel, stressed the advantage to IPBES of being co-located in Bonn, Germany, with 18 other UN organisations already present in the city.

There has been agreement on a number of matters. Text has been agreed on engaging ‘the scientific community and other knowledge holders’ in the work programme of IPBES. After a lengthy debate on whether technology transfer is an appropriate function for IPBES, delegates also agreed to text stating IPBES would ‘explore approaches to facilitating technology transfer and sharing in the context of assessment, knowledge generation and capacity building according to the work programme’.

Delegates are also currently discussing the functions of the IPBES in the context of one particular institutional arrangement proposed, so some consensus has been reached on the IPBES mode of operation. Two subsidiary bodies look set to be formed; a ‘Bureau’ consisting of a chair, four vice-chairs and an additional participant per UN region, making 10 participants in total. A ‘Multidisciplinary Scientific Panel’ has also been proposed, to consist of 25-35 members depending on how members are selected – currently a contentious issue between delegates. China, Argentina, Bolivia and others championed the deletion of ‘scientific’, to provide the Panel with a broader remit. This move was opposed by the EU, Chile, Columbia and others but was eventually accepted by delegates.

Today, on the penultimate day of the meeting, it seems that a number of decisions still remain outstanding. Some delegates interviewed for the Earth Negotiations Bulletin last night expressed concern at the pace of the meeting, suggesting that negotiations on seemingly simple matters are becoming increasingly complex and that there is a need to prioritise. One issue that caused contention yesterday was around the proposals for the ‘Multidisciplinarity Expert Panel’ (MEP) with China blocking agreement on interim arrangements governing how many members would sit on the panel and how they would be selected. Professor Sir Watson made it clear to delegates yesterday that this issue would need to be resolved before others could be discussed. Negotiations have resumed today and will continue throughout tomorrow so it must be hoped that agreement can be reached to, in the words of the Eath Negotiations Bulletin, move the IPBES from ‘paper to platform’.