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IPBES discussions progress slowly

Two members of the Environmental Social Science Research Group are in Antalya, Turkey, this week attending the 2nd Conference of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is a complex and important initiative that aims to improve the ‘science/policy’ interface, to collate research efforts from around the world that aim to demonstrate the extent of biodiversity loss and assess the state of ecosystems and nature’s benefits to people worldwide. In this way, it is similar to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, which through its reports has highlighted the ‘science’ behind climate change and the need for policy action.
 
The research effort that IPBES represents and requires is massive, as it needs to bring together governments, the scientific and indigenous communities that wish to contribute their efforts and knowledge, and come up with research topics, guidance for methodologies for complex assessments (e.g. land degradation, invasive species, scenarios and modelling, values and valuation, etc.), coordinate the institutionalisation of such an effort – the list is long. This complicated effort has been coordinated as an ‘Intergovernmental Platform’, as in its title, which means that it is currently unofficially a part of the United Nations Environment Programme and conforms to its rules and regulations. Thus this IPBES-2 meeting is like a big United Nations Conference of the Parties (except here we call it a Plenary, and currently 115 countries have signed on to IPBES, although IPBES is not legally binding).
 
The actual agenda for this week is that everything is on the table: the Work Programme, its Conceptual Framework, the Rules of Procedure, the Budget. These are currently being read and edited (in some cases line-by-line) by the Plenary. There are many issues that are of interest and relevant to us if we want to see a fair and equitable, transparent and legitimate IPBES process. György Pataki, member of ESSRG and Vice-Chair of the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel for Eastern Europe, is of course an ecological economist who has had a significant role in contributing to the potential Work Programme, in particular the thematic assessment for value and valuation. His role is to answer questions as they arise from Member States, and accordingly modify and expand the documents as appropriate. The interesting (and sometimes frustrating) quirk of the United Nations system is that only Member States have the right to speak at Plenary and in Contact Groups where documents are reviewed; as experts and stakeholders, we frequently have to network to find Member States that share our view or are willing to bring attention our views on the Plenary floor. It is a literal meeting space and place of science and politics.
 
I have been involved most significantly in questions of Procedure and institutional design for IPBES: that is, what role will Stakeholders (so, external experts, NGOs, communities) be allowed in the IPBES process? What will the institutional structure of IPBES be? Will it have a central, ‘neutral’ coordinating body called the Bureau that oversees the MEP, and will the MEP be independent or hierarchically beneath the Bureau? Will stakeholders be allowed to nominate experts to participate in the research and design of assessment reports, or will this privilege be the domain of states only? All these questions, and more, are the subject of this meeting.
 
We are attempting to achieve a credible IPBES process that gives holistic participation rights to knowledge holders and establishes an institutional base that is transparent for those electing to participate in it. At this stage, discussions are progressing slowly, but break-out groups and discussions will hopefully coalesce in time for adoption of all documents on Saturday.
 
Eszter Kovács-Krasznai
 
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