The past few days have been surprising as it slowly became apparent that the position of stakeholders in the IPBES process was not at all sure or guaranteed from the wishes and perspectives of Member States. Indeed, in the Contact Group for Procedures yesterday, talks completely stalled and a seeming impasse developed on the one hand between the ‘developing’ countries block represented by G-77 and China and the European Union and other states such as the USA on the other.
The key issue has been who will have the right to nominate experts to the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) as well as how experts can be nominated to take part in the contribution to assessments more generally. These are clearly critical questions, as the position of stakeholders (and their definition) will affect the credibility, legitimacy and transparency of the entire IPBES process. Scientists are the work force that will contribute their time and labour to putting together all assessments. How and by whom these scientists are nominated are crucial questions as the independence of experts and knowledge holders in the process are vital for the perception of IPBES reports as legitimate and credible.
The Contact Group on Procedures ground to halt last night as the G-77 and China proposed that in exchange for governments only being able to nominate experts to the MEP, they would be willing to be more flexible in the more general nomination of experts to specific assessments. However, they refused to specify in what form this flexibility would be until the EU and others agreed to the first stage regarding MEP nominations. Quickly and vociferously this was deemed completely unacceptable to the rest of the Members, not only because they sought a wider nomination process, but as an example of poor diplomatic practice and trade. For 90 minutes, Members conferred in two separate hushed groups at opposite sides of the negotiating room, with no result. At 22:29, Brazil on behalf of the G-77 announced that they would be willing to demonstrate their flexibility after all: MEPs should be nominated by Members only, but if the MEPs identified ‘gaps’ for their ability to complete their work, these gaps may be filled with experts nominated by relevant stakeholders. Equally unacceptable to other Members, we adjourned wearily towards 11pm.
After regional and stakeholder meetings from early Friday, compromise seemed distant and unlikely. At the start of the Contact Group in the morning, the Members adjourned in a smaller group without the support or help of Bureau and MEPs to battle out a compromise solution. What they came up with is something of a middle ground: Governments are to nominate MEPs, while MEPs are to determine what support they need to be able to complete their work, and for this purpose they are to call for expert nominations from governments and relevant stakeholders. However, from these lists no more than 20% of selected experts are to be from the nominations by stakeholders.
This seems to be the only political compromise possible at this stage, with Africa threatening to withdraw from negotiations if these were not accepted as the final, and not interim, arrangements. This is likely to be a challenging institutional set-up that needs to be tested – but at least we have forward momentum in this Contact Group again. Without Procedures we would have no IPBES!
Eszter Kovács, Research Fellow at ESSRG