[Taxacom] International Panel on Biodiversity

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Thu Jul 20 17:10:26 CDT 2006

Anybody in the future of biodiversity conservation ought to have a quick look at this piece in Nature (442, 246-247 where an International Panel on Biodiversity, analogous to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is suggested. It is the follow-up of a large biodiversity meeting co-organized by the French president Chirac, but so far didn't show up on any of the G8 meetings.
I think it's worthwhile to work towards such a body - or at least come up with a similar powerful structure - we need to consider us working on a megascience project "biodiversity" and not many individual systematics projects, which would lead into such a global agenda.

Dr. Donat AgostiScience ConsultantResearch Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum der Burgergemeinde BernEmail: agosti at amnh.orgWeb: http://antbase.orgBlog: http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/Skype: agostileuCV: http://antbase.org/agosticv_2003.htmlDalmaziquai 453005 BernSwitzerland+41-31-351 7152
-------------Vol 442|20 July 2006COMMENTARY245Diversity without representationFor policymakers, biodiversity can present more complex challenges than climate change, argue Michel Loreau,Alfred Oteng-Yeboah and their co-authors. So why isn't there an international panel of experts for biodiversity?Since the 1992 United Nations EarthSummit conference in Rio de Janeiro,Brazil, biodiversity has received increasingattention from scientists, governmentsand the public worldwide. There is growingrecognition that the diversity of life on Earth,including the variety of genes, species andecosystems, is an irreplaceable natural heritagecrucial to human well-being and sustainabledevelopment. There is also clear scientificevidence that we are on the verge of a majorbiodiversity crisis. Virtually all aspects of biodiversityare in steep decline and a large numberof populations and species are likely tobecome extinct this century. Despite this evidence,biodiversity is still consistently undervaluedand given inadequate weight in bothprivate and public decisions. There is anurgent need to bridge the gap between scienceand policy by creating an international body ofbiodiversity experts.Although protected areas have increasedslightly during the past few decades, collectivelythey contain only a small fraction of theworld’s terrestrial species and ecosystems, andthe situation in the oceans is even worse1. Theforces that push towards biodiversity lossglobally are much stronger than the conservationgains. Habitat destruction (notably intropical forests, inland waters and coastlines),introduction of invasive species, overexploitationof biological resources (such as overfishingin the seas), pollution, and now clear signsof global climate change are major threats tobiodiversity and continue unabated, driven byunsustainable growth of the world’s population,production, consumption and trade.Slow responseAs a result of these forces, biodiversityloss is acceleratingglobally. Some 12% of allbird species, 23% of mammals,25% of conifers,32% of amphibians and52% of cycads are threatenedwith extinction2,and climate change alonemight commit an additional15 to 37% of extantspecies to premature extinctionwithin the next 50 years3.Because biodiversity lossis essentially irreversible,it poses serious threats tosustainable development and the quality oflife of future generations. According to the2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment(MEA), two-thirds of the evaluated benefits tosociety from ecosystems, known as ‘ecosystemservices’, are currently being degraded orused unsustainably4.Given the magnitude and urgency of the biodiversitycrisis, why has the societal responsebeen so slow and inadequate? A lack of awarenessof the role of biodiversity in enabling thedelivery of ecosystem goods and services, thefailure of markets to recognize the valueof biodiversity, and the fact thatbiodiversity is a public good arekey factors. They underlie theperceived conflict betweenbiodiversity conservationand economic development,which exists onlyinsofar as development isnot sustainable. Biodiversityis also intrinsicallymore complex than otherenvironmental concerns, suchas the stratospheric ozone holeor even global climatechange. By definition, biodiversityis diverse: it spansseveral levels of biologicalorganization (genes, species, ecosystems); itcannot be measured by simple universal indicatorssuch as temperature and atmospheric CO2concentration; and its distribution and managementare more local in nature.Important ecosystem services, suchas pollination, depend on biodiversity.The diversity of life on Earth is in rapid decline, yet society’s response to this biodiversity crisis has lacked the urgency and attention it warrants. Why is this?Nature PublishingGroup ©2006COMMENTARY NATURE|Vol 442|20 July 2006246But another factor, which is within ourpower to rapidly change, is also limiting ourability to tackle the biodiversity crisis. Aninteresting comparison can be made betweentwo important multilateral agreements thatresulted from the Earth Summit in Rio: theConvention on Biological Diversity (CBD)and the Framework Convention on ClimateChange (FCCC). The FCCC built on astrongly organized scientific community andthe existing Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange (IPCC) to inform subsequentpolitical negotiations over climate change.In contrast, the CBD and the other internationalagreements concerned with biodiversitydo not have the structural means to mobilizethe expertise of a large scientificcommunity to inform governments.Consequently, the scientificcommunity often doesn’tfeel involved in the globalpolitical process, which tendsto exacerbate the disconnectbetween science and policy and ageneral attitude of powerlessnessand fatalism.Bridge the gapBiodiversity science needs toevolve, and is evolving, towardsgreater unity and integration5.What is lacking, however, in ourview, is a mechanism akin tothe IPCC that is able to bringtogether the expertise of the scientificcommunity to provide, ona regular basis, validated and independent scientificinformation relating to biodiversity andecosystem services, to governments, policymakers,international conventions, non-governmentalorganizations and the wider public.The four-year process that led to the MEAwas a first attempt at filling the gap betweenscience and policy. Its successes, in providinga much-needed conceptual framework and asynthesis of existing data, give us hope that thetask is achievable, but it also has shortcomingsfor addressing biodiversity loss in the longterm. First, it was a one-off effort6. Variousprojects are following up on aspects of theMEA, often at the level of a single country orregion, but there is currently no mechanismfor making this type of assessment global, systematicand sustained. Such a mechanismshould ideally be intergovernmental, ratherthan non-governmental, if it is to have credibilityand clout. Second, the MEA explored theconsequences of ecosystem change for humanwell-being, but was not specifically focusedon biodiversity.The idea of establishing an internationalpanel on biodiversity with a role similar tothe IPCC has floated around for some years.But the situation is now favourable to developingand achieving it. In January 2005, theidea received political support from theFrench president Jacques Chirac during theinternational conference ‘Biodiversity: Scienceand Governance’ held in Paris, France. Italso received broad support from the 2,000scientists, non-governmental and policy representativesfrom 100 countries that attendedthis conference, and was later enthusiasticallyendorsed by the 600 scientists assembled inthe first DIVERSITAS Open Science Conferenceheld in Oaxaca, Mexico, in November2005. The French government is currentlyfunding a consultation process to assess theneed, scope and possible models for an internationalmechanism of scientific expertise onbiodiversity (IMoSEB).What shape would such a panel take?Although clearly its contours must emergefrom the ongoing consultation process, anumber of features seem critical for its success.First, like the IPCC, it should have a formallink to, and be funded by, governments. Thisfeature, which distinguishes it from previousbiodiversity initiatives, would ensure thatnegotiations within international biodiversityconventions are based on validated scientificinformation and lead to action at national andglobal levels. However, the proposed panelshould also involve other stakeholders, such asnon-governmental organizations, intergovernmentalagencies, conventions and DIVERSITAS— the international programme ofbiodiversity science.Way forwardSecond, it must be objective and independent;it should include the world’s leading scientists,and its goal should be to provide rigorous,updated scientific information in support ofpolicy decisions and actions at all levels of civilsociety. Just as in the IPCC, the involvement ofgovernments and non-governmental organizationsshould in no way constrain the contentand quality of the scientific information delivered.Third, it should be transparent and representative,in terms of opinions, disciplinesand geographical regions. A strict peer-reviewprocess is required to meet these conditions.Fourth, it should strive to generate clear,readily accessible information about the statusand trends of biodiversity, projections of futurechanges in biodiversity and the ecosystem servicesthat depend on it, and options to conservebiodiversity and ecosystem services and mitigateadverse impacts of biodiversity changes.This information should allow governments,international conventions and society at largeto define clear targets for action. Finally, itshould build synergy with existing mechanismsand organizations. It has a unique scientificrole to play, and should not attempt toduplicate existing efforts.Building an initiative such as this requirescareful examination of needs and existingmechanisms. The consultation process, supervisedby an international steeringcommittee, will last 18 monthsand proceed in two phases. Duringthe first phase, a number ofstudies will define the need for,and goals of, an internationalpanel on biodiversity. Thesestudies will examine the globaldecision-making landscape concernedwith biodiversity, analysesuccesses and failures of biodiversityconservation efforts atdifferent scales, and assess existinginternational mechanismsthat deliver scientific expertise.In a second phase, this informationwill be used to articulate aset of recommendations for aninternational panel, which willbe presented at a set of regionalmeetings to seek input from all sectors ofsociety and all regions of the world.These consultations should be seized as aunique opportunity to move biodiversity scienceand governance forwards and find newways of resolving the crisis. We call upon allscientists interested in biodiversity science toget involved, and seek the participation of theirgovernment, in these consultations. ■Michel Loreau is in the Department of Biology,McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1,Canada; Alfred Oteng-Yeboah is at the Councilfor Scientific and Industrial Research, Accra,Ghana. This commentary is co-signed by M. T. K.Arroyo, D. Babin, R. Barbault, M. Donoghue, M.Gadgil, C. Häuser, C. Heip, A. Larigauderie, K. Ma,G. Mace, H. A. Mooney, C. Perrings, P. Raven, J.Sarukhan, P. Schei, R. J. Scholes and R. T. Watson.For additional information, e-mail to executivesecretariat at imoseb.net or consultwww.imoseb.net.1. Hendricks, I. E., Duarte, C. M. & Heip, C. H. R. Science 312,1715 (2006).2. Baillie, J. E. M., Hilton-Taylor, C. & Stuart, S. N. (eds) 2004IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: A Global SpeciesAssessment. (IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 2004).3. Thomas, C. D. et al. Nature 427, 145–148 (2004).4. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and HumanWell-Being: Synthesis (Island press, Washington DC,2005).5. Dirzo, R. & Loreau, M. Science 310, 943 (2005).6. Mooney, H., Cropper, A. & Reid, W. Nature 434, 561–562(2005).Jacques Chirac speaks in support of an international panel on biodiversity.D. BABINNature PublishingGroup ©2006

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