Categories: Biodiversity Article 1

Generating Global Momentum for Action on Biodiversity Loss

E. Lainao*
(No affiliation listed in published article)
*Corresponding author (no current affiliation available)

EPL, Vol.49, Iss.4-5, pp.205-210, 2019



The seventh session of the Plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES-7)1 was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, 29 April–4 May 2019. IPBES is an independent, intergovernmental body, established in 2012 to provide evidence-based, objective and policy-relevant information to decision makers regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the benefits they provide. The Platform’s work is divided into four functions: performing assessments of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services and their interlinkages; supporting policy formulation and implementation by identifying policyrelevant tools and methodologies; building the capacity and knowledge of member States; and ensuring impact through an effective communication and outreach strategy. The Platform’s governing body is the Plenary, made up of the representatives of IPBES member States. Representatives of non-member States, biodiversityrelated conventions, related UN bodies, non-governmental organisations and other relevant organisations and agencies can attend the Plenary as observers. The work of the Plenary is supported by its Bureau, overseeing the Platform’s administrative functions, and the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) overseeing the Platform’s scientific and technical functions. The Platform currently has 132 member States.

IPBES-7 was attended by some 800 participants, representing more than 130 IPBES member and nonmember States, UN agencies, convention secretariats, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, the business sector, indigenous peoples and local communities. The Plenary agenda included the following main items: consideration of the report of the external review panel on the effectiveness of the administrative and scientific functions of IPBES; review and approvals of the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”; approval of the proposed work programme for the period up to 2030; review and approval of a sustainable budget; and the election of new Bureau members and a new IPBES Chair. This report summarises the work on the first three of these items, giving greatest attention to the Global Assessment.

Review of the Platform at the Conclusion of its First Work Programme

IPBES-7 established a working group to examine the report of the review panel on the effectiveness of the administrative and scientific functions of IPBES; and to prepare a draft decision for consideration by the Plenary. In its report, the panel had confirmed that IPBES had achieved success with its five primary tasks and objectives. The working group drew five key messages from the report, which were adopted by the Plenary, relating to those tasks and objectives that IPBES has confronted through its work to date:

1. to define its vision and mission as a science-policy interface in order to ensure its transformative impact;
2. to strengthen the policy aspects of its work to fulfil its mandate as an interface;
3. to maintain its scientific independence;
4. to develop a more strategic and collaborative approach to the wide range of stakeholders; and
5. to secure its long-term financial sustainability in order to ensure its long-term effectiveness.

Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The highlight of the session was the approval of the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”, including separate analysis and approval of its summary for policy makers (SPM) and the underlying chapters. This report is the first intergovernmental global assessment of its kind and the first comprehensive assessment since the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Delegates described the assessment as a key milestone for IPBES and for international discussions on biodiversity; and highlighted its importance as input to the development of the post-2020 biodiversity framework.

The Assessment was celebrated as the culmination of the Platform’s first work programme. It embodies a 1,750-page report, whose writing and peer review involved more than 400 experts from a wide array of natural and social sciences. The work took more than three years, drawing from 15,000 references, including scientific papers, government information and additional relevant documents; and building on previous IPBES Assessments. In addition to scientific knowledge, the Assessment systematically sought to integrate indigenous and local knowledge. It is intended that the Assessment will serve as a scientific basis for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be held in China in 2020.

The assessment offers an overview of biodiversity and ecosystem trends closely examined in relation to key goals of the international environmental agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement on climate change. It illustrates how biodiversity contributes to the quality of life, identity and cultural heritage of humanity. It also proves that the loss of biodiversity, while stealthier, is just as grave as climate change and provides evidence that biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue but also a development, economic, security, social, moral and ethical issue that can undermine the attainment of the SDGs.

The Plenary specifically reviewed and approved the SPM,2 structured under four key messages:

• Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.
• Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years.
• Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.
• Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.

Achieving Goals for Conserving and Sustainably Using Nature

In light of past and on-going rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions and thus of nature’s contributions to people, the Assessment suggests that most international societal and environmental goals, such as those embodied in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, will not be achieved based on current trajectories. These declines will also undermine other goals, such as those that have been specified in the Paris Agreement, adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and included in the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Except in scenarios that include transformative change, the negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystem functions are projected to continue or even worsen through 2050 and beyond. Indirect drivers such as rapid human population growth, unsustainable production and consumption, dramatic changes to the uses of land and sea, and increasing exploitation of organisms appear interlinked and nearly irreversible. Negative impacts arising from pollution and invasive alien species will likely exacerbate these trends. Tropical regions in particular face a combination of risks – climate change, land-use change and fisheries overexploitation. Marine and terrestrial biodiversity in boreal, subpolar and polar regions is projected to decline mostly because of warming, sea-ice retreat and enhanced ocean acidification. 

Climate change scenarios project mostly adverse effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, which worsen, in some cases exponentially, with incremental global warming. Even with global warming of 1.5°–2°C, terrestrial species ranges are projected to shrink dramatically. Therefore, scenarios show that limiting global warming to well below 2°C would play a critical role in reducing adverse impacts on nature and humans.

Large concentrations of indigenous peoples and many of the world’s poorest communities make their homes in areas of the world projected to experience significant negative effects from global environmental changes. Because of their strong dependency on natural resources for subsistence, livelihoods and health, those communities will be suffer disproportionately, gradually losing their ability to manage and conserve wild and domesticated biodiversity.

Taking into consideration that the SDGs are integrated, indivisible and nationally implemented, current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 35 of the 44 assessed SDG targets related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (i.e., SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). By acting immediately and simultaneously on the multiple indirect and direct drivers, the world still has the potential to slow, halt and even reverse some of these expected losses of biodiversity.

Urgent and Concerted Efforts Needed for Transformative Change

Scenarios and pathways that promote low-tomoderate population growth; transformative changes in the production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water; sustainable use; equitable sharing of the benefits arising from use; and nature-friendly climate adaptation and mitigation can support the achievement of future societal and environmental objectives. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with vested interests in the status quo. Sustainability can be achieved at the local, national and global levels, if obstacles can be overcome for the broader public good through a commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets. Strategic policy mixes can contribute to the transformation of public and private sectors, by supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities; introducing new frameworks for private-sector investment and innovation; adopting inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements; and promoting multisectoral planning.

The Assessment identified five “levers”, in the form of five specific types of interventions, that could generate transformative change by tackling the indirect drivers of the deterioration of nature:

• incentives and widespread capacity development for environmental responsibility;
• cross-sectoral cooperation;
• pre-emptive and precautionary measures (including effective monitoring of their outcomes);
• management for resilient social and ecological systems in the face of uncertainty and complexity; and
• stronger, fully implemented environmental laws and policies.

Transformations that achieve sustainability objectives are more likely when efforts are directed at the following key leverage points: lowering total consumption and waste, including by addressing both population growth and per capita consumption. In addition, such transformation may turn on a change of view – perceiving that a good quality of life need not entail ever-increasing material consumption. Already, widely-held values of responsibility exist which, if fostered, can effect new social norms for sustainability. Inequalities, especially in income and gender, must also be addressed, including through inclusive decision making and the fair and equitable sharing of biodiversity’s benefits. It is also necessary for every country, institution and person to account for the manner and extent to which local economic activities and socio-economic and environmental interactions over distances contribute to the deterioration of nature. Through these approaches, and the promotion of relevant education, knowledge generation and environmentally friendly technological and social innovation, as well as the preservation and integration of traditional, indigenous and other knowledge systems, the trail to transformation can be blazed.

Risks, uncertainties and complexities are inevitable in such transformations, but can be reduced through governance approaches that are integrative, inclusive, informed and adaptive. The positive contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities to sustainability can be facilitated through national recognition of land tenure, access and resource rights in accordance with national legislation, the application of free, prior and informed consent, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from use, and improved collaboration and co-management arrangements with local communities.

Feeding humanity and enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of nature are closely interdependent goals. They can be advanced through the development and application of sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and livestock systems as well as the safeguarding and restoration of native species, varieties, breeds and habitats. Sustaining and conserving fisheries and marine species and ecosystems can be achieved through a coordinated mix of interventions on land, in freshwater and in the oceans, including multilevel coordination across stakeholders on the use of open oceans. Landbased climate-change mitigation activities can also support conservation goals. However, the large-scale deployment of intensive bio-energy plantations, including monocultures, replacing natural forests and subsistence farmlands, will likely have negative impacts on biodiversity and can threaten food and water security as well as local livelihoods, intensifying social conflict.

Nature-based solutions can be cost-effective in cities as well: in fact, city-level solutions are crucial for global sustainability. Increased use of green infrastructure and other ecosystem-based approaches can help to advance sustainable urban development while addressing the need to mitigate climate change and promote adaptation. Measures such as the designation of green spaces, biodiversity-friendly management of water bodies, promotion of urban agriculture and rooftop gardens, and expansion of the extent of accessible vegetation cover in existing urban and peri-urban areas, can contribute to flood protection, temperature regulation, cleaning of air and water, and management of wastewater, thus providing energy, locally sourced food and the health benefits of interaction with nature.

Rolling Work Programme of the Platform up to 2030

The Plenary adopted the proposed work programme of IPBES for the period up to 2030 and decided to launch a call for further requests, inputs and suggestions regarding the programme, in time for consideration by IPBES-10. The new programme will follow the current fundraising strategy, relying on three types of resources: cash contributions to the IPBES trust fund; in-kind contributions as well as other activities in support of the work programme, including the time and expertise provided pro bono by selected experts; and catalysed activities that contribute to the objective of IPBES. It will continue to consider itself as “demand-driven”, in the sense that its specific activities will be chosen on the basis of requests received from member States and relevant bodies under multilateral environmental agreements; and on inputs and suggestions received from other stakeholders.

Substantively, the new programme is structured on the basis of six objectives: assessing knowledge; building capacity; strengthening the knowledge foundations; supporting policy; communicating and engaging governments and stakeholders; and improving the effectiveness of the Platform. The objectives are supported by deliverables building on knowledge gained and lessons learned in the implementation of the first work programme. The initial practical/scientific/policy work under the new programme will focus on three topics aligned with the overall objective of IPBES and its policy framework:

• understanding the importance of biodiversity in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; 
• understanding the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity; and
• considering business’s impact on nature and its dependence on biodiversity, and contrasting that against nature’s contributions to human lives and wellbeing in general.

Deliverables on these topics will include thematic and methodological assessments.

EPL Biodiversity Article 1

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