Intergovernmental biodiversity platform gears up substantive work
Kuala Lumpur, 25 Mar (Hilary Chiew) – The 4th Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES4) concluded on 28 February with the launch of its first two assessment reports, and adopted a number of decisions to further advance its 2014-2018 work programme.
Within the work programme are methodological assessment on diverse conceptualisation of multiple values of nature and its benefits, thematic assessment on invasive alien species, thematic assessment on sustainable use of biodiversity, and the global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
During the plenary session on 28 February morning of the 7-day meeting at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the Methodological Assessment of scenarios and models of biodiversity and ecosystem services was approved and the underlying technical report was accepted by the member governments.
Prior to this, on 26 February, IPBES released its first assessment. The SPM of the thematic assessment of pollination, pollinators and food production was approved and the underlying technical report was accepted.
The pollinator SPM and the accompanying 830-page technical report divided into six chapters attracted considerable global media attention and was regarded as a recognition of the significanct work of IPBES that is only two years into the implementation of its work programme.
In advancing the 5-year work programme, the meeting saw intense debate on the prioritisation of the issues with approvals for some future activities being subjected to the availability of funding and the possibility of them being delayed to the next phase of work programme.
Developing country member states led by the African Group and Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries in the United Nations (GRULAC) called for equal treatment for all items that were negotiated till the final days in the contact group and suggested adjusting the budget accordingly.
Developed country member states, particularly the United States and Canada, are in favour of putting all human resources (experts in various fields) and funds into global assessments and that due to the dire financial situation of IPBES, it is therefore “not in a position to approve other assessments”.
(According to an observer who has followed the IPBES for several years, a focus on global assessments would result in a bias towards Northern experts, marginalising the needs of developing countries situated in diverse ecosystems and the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge systems.)
As the matter came to the crunch by the evening of 27 February, the budget group co-chaired by Leonel Sierralta Jara (Chile) and Spencer Thomas (Grenada) worked throughout the night until the early hours of the next day to find a solution.
(While the contact groups 1 and 2 were opened to observers, the budget group was closed.)
The closing plenary session also marked the departure of founding Chair Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid (Malaysia) and the appointment of a new set of bureau members and the new Chair Dr Robert Watson (United Kingdom).
Besides items related to the work programme of the Platform, other major items on the agenda included procedures for the preparation of the Platform’s deliverables; procedure for the review of the Platform; Communications, stakeholder engagement and strategic partnerships. These items were assigned to two contact groups led by two co-chairs which met in parallel from the afternoon of 23 February until late evening of 27 February.
Prior to deliberation in the contact groups, an initial exchange of views was conducted in the plenary in the afternoon of 22 February and continued in the morning and afternoon sessions of 23 February.
The discussions in the contact groups were followed by more deliberations in the final plenary on 28 February for adoption of draft decisions related to each agenda item.
Following are the background, highlights of the discussions and decisions of selected agenda items.
Scoping report for a thematic assessment on sustainable use of biodiversity
IPBES3 (Bonn, Germany in 2015) approved the initiation of scoping, primarily using virtual approaches, for a thematic assessment of sustainable use of biodiversity, for consideration by Plenary at its fourth session. IPBES4 was invited to consider a scoping report for a thematic assessment on sustainable use of biodiversity, developed by the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel, based on the outcome of an electronic conference.
On the evening of 27 February, members deliberated on the draft decision which read:
“Welcomes the progress made in the scoping of the assessment of sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity;
Requests the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) and the Bureau to undertake a scoping process, subject to the availability of funds, in accordance with the procedures for the preparation of the platform’s deliverables set out in the annex to decision IPBES-2/3 and including a face-to-face scoping workshop, to revise the report on scoping for the thematic assessment on sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, based on comments received during the fourth session of the Plenary and an open review by Governments and stakeholders, for consideration by the Plenary at its fifth session.”
South African speaking for the African Group stressed that it is very important for the Group to have the assessment of sustainable use of biodiversity to proceed and suggested adjustment to be made to the budget. It further said budget constraints should be applied to the entire work programme and member states should not determine to forego this particular assessment.
Malawi said the importance of the knowledge (to be generated) from this exercise cannot be overemphasised.
Echoing the African Group, Mexico representing GRULAC wanted the same treatment to be given to “everything that has been agreed” cautioning that “This is priority for GRULAC and we want to make it clear.”
In objecting to the use of the phrase ‘subject to the availability of funds’, Mexico stressed that the issue is of priority for many countries. It further pointed out that if the first e-conference did not work then (members) should consider the matter as a complex issue which required a gathering of experts and stakeholders to meet face-to-face.
Co-Chair Asghar Fazel (Iran) who presided over this item assigned to Contact Group 2 adjourned the meeting to make way for the budget group meeting around 9.30pm and requested member states that have raised concern to gather at the corridor for consultation.
When the meeting was reconvened at 10:50pm, the Secretariat projected the revised draft decision on the screen which contained three paragraphs that read:
“Welcomes the progress made in the scoping of the assessment of sustainable use of biodiversity;
Requests the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel in consultation with the Bureau to undertake a further scoping of the thematic assessment of the sustainable use of biodiversity initiated in pursuant to decision IPBES-3/1, in accordance with the procedures for the preparation of the platform’s deliverables set out in the annex to decision IPBES-2/3, including by:
(a) Organising a face-to-face scoping workshop of experts, involving relevant stakeholders, to produce a revised draft scoping report for the assessment that gives consideration to the revision of the title of the assessment;
(b) Organising an open review of the revised draft scoping report by Governments and stakeholders, taking into account section 3.1, paragraph (g), of the procedures for the preparation of the platform’s deliverables;
(c) Preparing a revised scoping report for the assessment for consideration by the Plenary at its fifth session;
Notes that the activities with resources implications herein are to be undertaken subject to the availability of resources. “
The third paragraph triggered another round of objection with South Africa (for the African Group) saying that “we thought we have made our point clear”. In support, Guatemala said it cannot consider the paragraph as part of a clean decision text.
The matter was finally resolved when Co-Chair Asghar, upon consultation at the podium with fellow Co-Chair Ivar Baste (Norway) and the Secretariat, announced that the paragraph will be bracketed with a view to be removed pending the outcome of the budget group.
In the final budget, US$80,000 was allocated for 2016 to enable the revision of the scoping report. (It was learnt that in the initial budget draft, there was no allocation for this work.) The contentious paragraph was accordingly removed.
Members also deliberated on the change of the name of the scoping report with suggestions such as ‘sustainable use of wildlife’ which triggered huge reactions from others who felt that the term wildlife is not comprehensive as there is no universal definition of wildlife.
Scoping for the methodological assessment regarding diverse conceptualisation of multiple values of nature and its benefits, including biodiversity and ecosystem services
In decision IPBES-3/1, the Plenary requested the expert group to revise the preliminary guide and the scoping report on the conceptualisation of values of biodiversity and nature’s benefits to people, based on comments received following an open review by Governments and stakeholders, for consideration by the Plenary at its fourth session. IPBES4 thus considered the revised scoping report.
Member states were divided on pursuing this agenda item as expressed during the morning session of 23 February in plenary.
The United States believed the assessment outline was too broad and did not provide much value to the decision-making process and would rather support work on thematic items.
Germany said the assessment should benefit from and build on findings from the regional assessments to avoid expensive redundancy. It therefore proposed postponement pending the advancement of on-going assessment (referring to the global and regional assessments).
The United Kingdom aligned its views with Germany. Japan believed the work should be subjected to available budget.
New Zealand was encouraged by the scoping paper and said that the intent of the assessment to describe various worldviews including indigenous and local knowledge should be commended. It further noted that this has to be the most important product of IPBES to break new ground on this complex subject.
Norway believed the assessment is valuable but cautioned against duplication (of work).
Belgium said the work offers important linkage to biodiversity and ecosystem services and is policy-relevant, stressing that social scientists are not engaged to the extent needed.
Representing the African Group, South Africa welcomed the comprehensive scoping report which is cross-cutting on all of the IPBES work programme.
Aligning with South Africa, Botswana said the value of nature has always been central to the African call for recognition of natural capital to be integrated into national development and planning processes. It considered the current process as the right path towards the use of natural resources as natural capital.
The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IIFBES) welcomed the work and disagreed with the view that this will not provide added value to decision makers. It agreed with New Zealand that this is one of the most important documents of this work, and the cross-cutting nature of the report.
It said cultural ecosystem services are one pillar of four ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating, supporting, cultural) that is in principle on an equal footing.
The Forum stressed that “However, we find three major shortcomings of the use of this concept in the published literature:
1. Cultural values attached to the concept: The majority of academic analyses of cultural ecosystem services reflect the interests of societies outside of indigenous peoples and local communities. Many papers refer to recreation, tourism and aesthetic values. A few refer to spiritual values, but these do not necessarily capture the rich meanings held by ILKs (indigenous and local knowledge systems).
2. Although theoretically on an equal footing, cultural ecosystem services make up only a small fraction of publications on ecosystem services. A very crude measure, ratio of the use of the phrase ‘ecosystem services’ versus the phrase ‘cultural ecosystem services’ on Google comes up with a ratio of about 116 to 1 (3,010,000/26,000).
Therefore the published literature is likely to be extremely biased towards discussions of the economic value of ecosystem services.
3. This bias demonstrates why it is critically important to explore and continuously keep in mind multiple values of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the assessments and elaboration of concepts for implementation of the goals of this platform. While economics may provide some significant incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, they are not the exclusive ones. It is important to understand the role of the values, motivations and incentives of indigenous peoples and local communities, and how these underpin conservation and sustainable use.”
IIFBES further said there is some evidence from behavioural economics that economic incentives may not be neutral, but that their expanding use may undermine other values and motivations that are important in conservation and sustainable use. For example, there is some extensive literature on how economic values can crowd out, or displace other values, such as altruism, other-regarding motivations, and obligations for stewardship and caring for Mother Earth. The extensive use of such incentives, however useful in the present economics-dominated world, could have long-term effects on values and motivations that have in the past made substantial contributions to conservation and sustainable use, and induce changes in indigenous and local communities. Accordingly, IIFBES believes this literature needs to be included in the report.
In the final plenary to adopt the draft decision in the morning of 28 February, the scoping report was approved and the undertaking of the assessment will be considered at the fifth session of the Platform.
The document annexed to the decision (L8) noted that all sources of relevant information will be assessed, including peer-reviewed literature, grey literature, and indigenous and local knowledge. It further noted that the MEP will select 2 or 3 co-chairs and they together with the technical support unit will have proven abilities in facilitation to ensure the communication across disciplines and sectors, as well as the incorporation of different types of knowledge held by the participants.
The experts will come from among academia, key stakeholder groups and indigenous and local knowledge holders to ensure broad coverage of a diversity of worldviews.
(Many participants were shocked by the statement by a developed country delegate at one point of the IPBES4 who said “this is all about archiving and capitalising on indigenous and local knowledge.
Despite the conceptual acceptance of diverse knowledge systems, especially indigenous and local knowledge, in the IPBES conceptual framework there is still a fundamental bias that is deep seated.)
Scoping report for a thematic assessment on invasive alien species
In decision IPBES-3/1, the Plenary approved the initiation of scoping, primarily using virtual approaches, for a thematic assessment of invasive alien species (IAS), and this was considered by IPBES4. IPBES4 is invited to consider a scoping report for a thematic assessment of invasive alien species and their control, developed by the MEP, based on the outcome of an electronic conference.
Member states have mixed views on pursuing this agenda item as expressed during the 23 February morning plenary.
The United States said focus should be on high priority areas such as climate change and ocean, noting that a geographical review of IAS is a significant undertaking that will not provide specific values to policy makers.
Germany believed the outlined task is very ambiguous and that tourism should be included as a driver of IAS.
France highlighted the need for inclusion of the high seas and oceans in the scope of assessment.
Japan said it is more important to strengthen control since IAS, when established, is hard to eradicate, noting the need for long term solutions.
New Zealand said the impact of IAS is seen most clearly on island systems. Although it is seen as a global leader but it still has much to learn to advance understanding and cooperation in control efforts. It underscored the importance of focusing attention on prevention being better as it is cheaper than the cure. Recognising the budget pressure, it said one option is to interface rhe IAS assessment with the global assessment.
Norway opined that the IAS assessment could be part of the global assessment rather than a stand-alone assessment.
Brazil considered the scoping report crucial and suggested possible support tools to decision makers such as categorising IAS according to scale and impacts. It also called for the participation of health and epidemiology workers as relevant stakeholders.
Mexico speaking for GRULAC reiterated the importance of making IAS a priority assessment and that it is a high priority for its member countries. It was supported by Uruguay.
Ecuador noted the link of IAS with international trade and that the marine domain deserves greater attention.
India underscored the gaps in understanding the threat of IAS to biodiversity and human well-being and the need for a coordinated approach in the development and strengthening of human capital and infrastructure to deal with IAS.
Indonesia said attention was much on national pathway (of invasion) but transboundary movement still lacks any regulation and guidance.
During the closing plenary in the morning of 28 February, work on the thematic assessment was approved. The document annexed to the decision among others noted that assessment will be global, encompassing invasive alien species in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The timetable showed that IPBES is scheduled to approve the thematic assessment in 2019 to be prepared at an estimated cost of US$893,250.
Work on indigenous and local knowledge systems
In decision IPBES-2/5, the Plenary requested the MEP and Bureau to develop for consideration by the Plenary at its fourth session draft procedures for and approaches to working with indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) systems based on the initial elements of such procedures and approaches developed by the MEP.
In response to that decision, the ILK task force prepared a report which set out a draft set of approaches and procedures for working with ILK systems, as informed by the pilot global dialogue on ILK for the pollination assessment.
It also proposed criteria and operational guidelines for the establishment and use of the roster of experts on ILK, and a step wise approach for the participatory mechanism for working with indigenous, local and various knowledge systems.
During the plenary session in the afternoon on 22 February, delegates had an initial expression of views.
The United States welcomed the proposed procedures and as it will serve as a model for other organisations. It said this must be carefully crafted, noting that development of procedures would take time to ensure appropriate representation.
Mexico speaking for GRULAC emphasised focusing the link between ILK and intellectual property rights. It said the document presented was very general but as it was only made available on 11 February, it could not go into the details.
New Zealand said the proposed roster and network not only ensure participation of ILK but allowed ILK to be embedded in the IPBES work programme. Nevertheless, it still did not allow for open and equal engagement due to the dominance of the western knowledge system.
South Africa representing the African Group said there are still challenges and supported further development of the procedures and piloting. It would like to see identification of ILK status in Africa because most things in Africa are ILK. “You cannot conserve biodiversity without considering ILK. It is difficult to detach ILK from many of these issues,” it stressed.
Representing the EU IPBES member states, the Netherlands said there should be no requests put on states to always consult the experts on the roster so as not to pose administrative burden. Experts nominated by states will constitute the roster.
Japan said both individuals and organisations may be nominated to the roster of experts but it sought more clarity on the process.
The 28 February closing Plenary adopted the outlined procedures and the document is annexed to the decision of the work programme of the Platform.
Among the procedures are receiving requests to the Platform, scoping for Platform deliverables, preparation of reports, preparation of Summary for Policy Makers and preparation of synthesis reports. It is noted that the MEP should encourage Governments and stakeholders to nominate an appropriate number of ILK holders and ILK experts to contribute to IPBES deliverables. Furthermore, the MEP should work to ensure that ILK, and an appropriate number of ILK holders and ILK experts, are included in all stages of the Platform’s assessment. And in accordance with applicable international obligations and national legislation, nothing in these procedures should be construed as diminishing or extinguishing any existing rights of indigenous peoples or local communities.
Procedure for the review of the Platform
In decision IPBES-2/5, the Plenary requested the MEP, in consultation with the Bureau, to develop a procedure for the review of the effectiveness of the administrative and scientific functions of the Platform. It further sets out that, once agreed, an independent review body appointed by the Plenary would conduct such a review at midterm and at the end of the work programme for the period 2014-2018. It was anticipated that the midterm review would inform actions by the Plenary related to the implementation of the remainder of the work programme for the period and that the final review would inform the development of the work programme for the following period.
At IPBES3, the Plenary provided guidance on the draft procedure and invited countries to provide comments on the progress report to facilitate consideration of the issue at IPBES4 which would invite member states to approve a set of suggested actions and terms of reference for the reviews. The suggested actions are: to invite the International Council for Science (ICSU) to select, in collaboration with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the independent review body for the midterm and final reviews; to request the MEP and the Bureau, with support from the secretariat, to undertake internal midterm and internal final reviews.
At the afternoon session on 23 February, delegates voiced their initial views on this agenda item.
Netherlands for its EU IPBES members preferred the mid-term review to be conducted internally.
The United States welcomed the review as a critical tool to understand effectiveness of efforts in the first work programme. It could support the ICSU and ISSC’s involvement and preferred a single external independent review body.
Switzerland said it is of essence that the government be consulted and provided with channels to submit their views.
Japan suggested cancelling the midterm review for the first work programme and questioned the need for two reviews in consecutive years.
South Africa representing the African Group welcomed the review and expressed concern that the review is limited to the scientific functions and called for it to be broadened to the science-policy functions so as to include policy makers.
During the evening session on 27 February, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, and the EU echoed each other in their preference for a single external review and to have the review towards the end of the work programme with Canada noting the financial constraint.
South Africa for the African Group said in light of the budgetary concern, the review could be conducted through the normal administration process by assessing the functions of the different levels of the Platform. It cautioned against waiting for a crisis before reviewing the Platform’s performance, noting that if the review is carried out next year, it will be only be focusing on the work accomplished thus far. It urged conversation on a much scaled down review process.
At the final plenary on 28 February, member states adopted the decision agreeing to invite Governments and stakeholders to further provide views on the draft terms of reference (ToR) for the end-of-work-programme review set out in the document annexed to the decision, taking into account the need to integrate the internal and external elements of the review, and request the MEP, in consultation with the Bureau, to further refine the scope and ToR for consideration by the Plenary at its fifth session.
The Netherlands representing the EU stressed that the review of the Platfrom should include all aspects with special attention on the procedure on the conflict of interests.
Chair Zakri said the concern will be reflected in the report of the meeting.
Annexed documents are available here - http://www.ipbes.net/insession-documents