Will IPBES work?
This is a reposting of a January report from SCB's IPBES subcommittee chair Bengt Gunnar Jonsson, on behalf the SCB IPBES delegation and head of the IPBES subcommittee.
The second plenary meeting of IPBES is over
A few weeks has passed since the IPBES Chair Professor Zakri Abdul Hamid closed the second plenary session of IPBES. Happy faces were seen and positive closing remarks were given, celebrating the “Antalya consensus”. Indeed, great progress was made, and most importantly, the programme of work for 2014 – 2018 was established. This marks in many respects the real start of IPBES, since now experts can begin working on a range of different assessments. First in line is an assessment on pollinators, pollination and food production which is planned to be finished during 2015. As being perhaps the most widely communicated ecosystem service, pollination seems to be a good starting point to show the value and potential of IPBES. A range of other topics will also be addressed, including assessments on land degradation and restoration, invasive alien species, methods on scenarios and modeling as well as methods for valuation of biodiversity. Also both regional and global assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem service will be scoped.
A key function to make all this happen rests with the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), which faces a huge workload the coming period. Selecting, managing and coordinating several expert groups and task forces will be critical for the outcome of the different deliverables. Having met several of the MEP members we sensed a bit of stress, but there is also good reason to feel confident about the competence and ambitions of the Panel members. We are also happy to note our direct SCB link with the MEP as having the SCB Europe sections’ president Andras Baldi as one MEP member. We wish him and the other members all the very best luck in the important work!
Time to prove what SCB can do!
The decisions taken also challenge SCB to prove its value for IPBES. When the calls for experts are official, we need to tap into our membership and provide nominations to the different work groups to ensure that the right people are selected to do the job. As an SCB clearly belong to the “qualified national, regional and international scientific organizations, centres of excellence and institutions known for their work and expertise” we are welcome to nominate experts, either directly to IPBES or through national governments. This is a task that will require us to utilize both the networks within our sections and to better link with our national contacts. Our newly revived expert database is another obvious resource. So be prepared to contribute to the nomination process, something we have already promised in our offer for in-kind contribution.
Will IPBES work?
Well, enough of the positive sides, since there are also concerns to voice after the meeting. Although many positive words were said about the role of stakeholders and scientific organizations, the actual discussions and decisions suggest some mistrust among governments to fully engage stakeholders in IPBES. After very long and at some points extremely frustrating negotiations a compromise was established concerning nomination of experts for the functions as report co-chairs, coordinating lead authors, lead authors and review editors. The MEP will be restricted to only select a maximum of 20% of experts directly from nomination from relevant stakeholders, while direct government nominations should comprise the other 80%. This suggests that many governments wants to control who can contribute to the work and somewhat questions the scientific independence and integrity of the work. Fortunately, we have a number of more open governments and we should use these as a second avenue for nomination.
A second disappointment was the lack of decision on the so called Stakeholder Engagement Strategy (SES). The suggested SES was a joint effort from several stakeholder organizations, including SCB, coordinated by IUCN and ICSU. Despite significant efforts this never reached the plenary for a final decision and is now postponed to the next plenary meeting. Although no strong objections were raised against the SES, it showed that the governments did not see this as critical priority for IPBES at this point.
Finally, a major concern is financing of the work. The current budget only supports the internal work of IPBES, its secretariat, upcoming meetings and workshops. No support is available for the actual work provided by experts. The governments seem to assume that the scientific community will stand ready and do all the work for free. Maybe so, but it is easy to see how the lack of funding will strongly filter which experts will be able to contribute. To be successful IPBES needs to become such a prestigious process that the products and work done is recognized in the same way as peer-reviewed publications. We are not there yet, and this questions to what extent IPBES will be able to engage fully with the top experts in the topics to be addressed.
IPBES is a never ending story and the next plenary meeting is scheduled for already late 2014. The upcoming intersessional period will include a new set of documents to read, analyze and comment to show the involvement of SCB and to hopefully contribute to a functioning IPBES. As of now the work will be coordinated by a subcommittee of the SCBs global Policy Committee, but you are all of course welcome to contribute with wise comments and perspectives. Lets remain devoted regardless of the concerns raised above – after all this is what we have as an international process trying to link science with policy making in the area of biodiversity and ecosystem services. SCB needs, in the light of our Mission and Visions, to watch these developments with interest, concern, and hope to see a science-policy dialogue rather than a purely politically dominated system