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Nations move on how to put 'natural assets' at the top of agenda

Friday, November 14, 2008

CLOSE to 100 nations have concluded a review of how science can better guide policy by examining the merits of a new scientific body able to put the loss of biodiversity, ecosystems and their multi-trillion dollar services at the top of the political agenda.

Recommendations on the final day included one to carry out a preliminary 'gap analysis' on where the link between scientists and those that make policy decisions at a national, regional and global level might be strengthened and for the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to present toe outcome of this week to UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum -- the big gathering of environment ministers scheduled for mid-February 2009.

The meeting also recommended that the UNEP Governing Council requests the executive director to "convene a second Intergovernmental Multi-stakeholder Meeting on an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services".

And added: "With the view to strengthening and improving the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for human well-being, including consideration of a new science-policy platform".

The nations, gathering over three days in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya, were weighing the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to translate science into policy- action by governments including the merits of establishing an Intergovernmental Panel or Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES.

It reflected growing concern that the current international response was failing to galvanise a real and meaningful response to the decline of the globe's economically important natural or nature-based assets from species and soils to forests and fisheries.

The failure is in part as a result of a fragmented landscape of reports and assessments by a multitude of organizations each coming to the issue from different approaches and with different methods.

"The end result is that a policy-makers lack the validated, coherent and actionable guide to what is the most sensible tack for turning around biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation," said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme which convened the Malaysia meeting.

"An intergovernmental body, perhaps mirroring the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which has put global warming high on the political radar, is one of the options that represents a possible way forward," he added.

"One thing that was not in doubt here was an overwhelming acceptance that business and usual is unlikely to stem the tide of decline of the Earth's natural world and natural assets and that some kind of urgent response is long overdue-that a transition to a Green Economy must put scientific and sustainable use of these resources amongst the top political priorities," said Mr Steiner.

The nations meeting in Malaysia today requested a 'gaps' report aimed at pin pointing where the problems in the current response to biodiversity and ecosystem decline actually rest.

Some of those could include the current gaps in knowledge on the precise link between biodiversity, healthy ecosystems and thus livelihoods.

In other words how many species can disappear from a forest or fertile soils before they collapse or become ever less productive?

Meanwhile many experts believe that an intergovernmental panel or platform could provide early warning of biologically-related developments of regional or global significance years in advance of their public emergence.

Some experts cite the case of biofuels, an area that has triggered fierce and polarized public debate in recent months. The issues surrounding biofuels or certain kinds of biofuels have been known to scientists for several decades, but only now are hitting the headlines.

Similar arguments can be made for the disappearance of amphibians as a result of viruses or perhaps climate change and for acidification of the oceans and loss of coral reefs as a result of the build up of C02 in the atmosphere and the seas.

Others believe that some of the greatest 'gaps' exist in developing countries where there is an urgent and practical need to strengthen the knowledge, skills and capacity to carry out biodiversity and ecosystem assessments in the first place.

Nations this week requested that such a gaps analysis, able to demonstrate the need or otherwise of an international panel or some other mechanism, should be presented before a global gathering of the world's environment ministers.

The meeting-UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum-- is scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya in mid-February 2009.

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