IPBES meeting gets underway in Nairobi

Today is the first day of a plenary meeting to discuss and decide upon the formation of the Integovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), convened by the UN Environment Programme. Representatives from the United Nations, and observers from NGOs and other bodies, have assembled in Nairobi, Kenya, to consider how IPBES will operate and, amongst other decisions, determine where the IPBES secretariat will be located.

On the eve of the meeting, Prof. Bob Watson, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, gave an interview to the Independent newspaper, in which he outlined his hopes for IPBES. Prof. Watson suggested that the only way in which IPBES can function effectively will be if developing nations have ownership over any in-country ecosystem assessments which are conducted, and if these are conducted by scientists from that nation – similar to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. “If they think that this is just the white world, the developed world, telling them what to do, that’ll be the end of it.”

The BES, together with the UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group (UK BRAG) organised a session at the BES Annual Meeting in Sheffield last month which introduced the IPBES to the assembled ecologists. Dr Andrew Stott, Defra’s representative to IPBES from the civil service, outlined the role of IPBES, as agreed at a meeting in Busan, South Korea, in 2010. A copy of Dr Stott’s presentation is available from the BES website.

As outlined by Dr Stott, IPBES will:

Generate new knowledge: identifying information needed for policy; catalysing research and surveying
Conduct regular and timely assessments: at global, regional and sub-regional scales; and on thematic and ‘new topics identified by science’.
Provide support for policy formulation, through promoting access to policy-relevant tools and methods;
– Have a capacity building function: identifying needs; supporting the highest priority needs; catalysing funding.

IPBES is intended as an ‘IPCC for biodiversity’; a credible, scientifically independent body which is policy relevant but not policy prescriptive (similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

At the plenary meeting over the next few days decisions will be made about how the IPBES is structured; whether, for example, a scientific advisory group is formed which can advise the Plenary – the IPBES decision-making body- on scientific and technical aspects of the work programme and which can approve specific scientific procedures related to how ecosystem assessments are conducted. A further meeting in Nairobi, in March/ April 2012, will see delegates decide on further aspects of how the IPBES will work, including its work programme.

As IPBES develops, there are likely to be opportunities for ecologists and others to get involved with the conduct of assessments and with capacity building, although questions remain about how to incentivise scientists to take part in these activities (for example, through university reward structures such as the Research Excellence Framework). Ecologists and others in the UK who would like to find out more about IPBES and who would like to remain fully engaged with the development of the Platform, can join the UK Stakeholder Group, maintained by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).