Linking up the science – policy interface for biodiversity

Pollination, land use and invasive species are just a few of the environmental issues that the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has announced as being top priority for their work in the next 5 years. Following a weeks’ worth of meetings and negotiations in Antayla, Turkey, the platform aims to equip policymakers with the right knowledge and tools to address pressing environmental issues and enable more science to be used to inform policy decisions.

Established in April 2012, the IPBES is a relatively new platform that is open to all members of the United Nations, with the UK government having already pledged its support. Acting in a similar way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this platform focuses on biodiversity, ecosystem services and human wellbeing. As such, it is an extremely important, and arguably essential, global platform which will act at sub-regional, regional and global levels as an interface between the scientific community and policy makers.

The IPBES states that it ‘provides a mechanism recognized by both the scientific and policy communities to synthesize, review, assess and critically evaluate relevant information and knowledge generated worldwide by governments, academia, scientific organizations, non-governmental organizations and indigenous communities’. To achieve this, the platform has four main aims (from JNCC website):

– Knowledge generation: identify and prioritise key scientific information needed for policymakers

– Assessments: catalogue and critically review assessments relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services

– Policy support: support policy formulation and implementation by identifying policy-relevant tools and methodologies

– Capacity building: identify key capacity-building needs to improve the science-policy interface

After the first plenary meeting in January 2013 in Bonn Germany, where initial budgets and work programmes were discussed, the second meeting in Antayla, Turkey, finished on Saturday (14th Dec). Great progress has been made and the initial areas of assessment that the platform will consider were discussed. As a commitment to this platform, US$25.4million was pledged, representing over half the whole IPBES budget. As early as December 2015, the IPBES has stated that it will release its first assessment, focused on pollination and food production. This will include evaluating the true role of pollination in food production as well as assess relevant policy effectiveness. The second assessment will look at land degradation and restoration.

The announcement of a new partnership between 4 organisations was also given at the meeting. The United Nations Environment programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural programme, Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations and United Nations Development programme will all collaborate to provide IPBES with specific support as well as further unite work from these organisations to promote sustainable use of resources and better protect biodiversity.

A key area that the IPBES has been championing is the involvement of stakeholders and the inclusion of local knowledge at all stages of its process. From scientific assessment and review to policy decision making, the IPBES wants to include stakeholders at all process levels. Such stakeholders include scientists and research institutions, environmental NGOs, indigenous communities and the private sector. However, whilst stakeholders were invited to attend the meetings, unfortunately the Stakeholder Engagement Strategy which lays out where, how and when stakeholders will be included in the IPBES process was not adopted at the meeting and was instead postponed. This is a significant blow for the interested stakeholders as it will limit their level of involvement until the next meeting. Given that stakeholders will not only provide many of the inputs to the IPBES but also use the outputs, forgoing such early plans for involvement of stakeholders could be a detrimental move for the IPBES.

Looking forward, the IPBES has made great steps in pushing forward its agenda and if it keeps to its plans it could become one of the most influential and crucial bodies relating to the biodiversity and ecosystem services science-policy interface. However, it is crucial that the promises of the IPBES in relation to stakeholder engagement are pushed through and not forgotten if the platform is to be truly successful in providing support and advice at all levels of decision making.