perspectives

jerryExpert of the Day - Needs for strengthening the science-policy interface and links between IPBES and other on-going processes in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem services

Jerry Harrison, UNEP-WCMC

Question 1: What might be the relationship or links between an IPBES and current international programs focusing on biodiversity, such as the Protected Areas and World Heritage Programme?

 Essentially there are two questions embedded in this, how a future IPBES might serve and support ongoing international programmes, and how a future IPBES might draw on the information arising from existing organizations and activities.

 On the first question there is, as yet, no clear definition of which international processes IPBES would support if established, and this is one of the issues that will be addressed by the third IPBES meeting. However, whatever the decision, the establishment of an IPBES would result in new assessments and syntheses that could be used to inform existing international programmes, and provide additional rationale for those programmes based on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

 Meanwhile, it is clear from the current discussions on IPBES that Governments would expect a future IPBES to take account of and build on existing experience, and build on the existing landscape of organizations, networks, programmes and processes working on issues relevant to the science-policy interface. This would include many of the current international programmes focussing on biodiversity.

 Question 2: How do you think IPBES will help to make scientific findings more available to policy makers and in a form that is useful to them?

 Following discussion at the first IPBES meeting that was held in Putrajaya, Malaysia in November 2008, UNEP was asked to prepare a gap analysis which reviewed the existing science-policy landscape, and identified the gaps that needed to be addressed. Prominent amongst these were the need for a better knowledge base, for improved indicators, for more capacity building, and so on. But also significant were the needs for better presenting and communicating information to inform policy. The results of this gap analysis have informed subsequent discussion.

 While a decision has not yet been taken on IPBES and the form it will take, it can be safely assumed that if an IPBES is established it will provide a major conduit for communicating scientific findings to policy makers. But effective communication is two-way process, and it is essential that policy makers communicate what they need from scientists, and that scientists are able to respond in ways that are useful to policy makers. A future IPBES will therefore need to establish processes for achieving this.

 However there is an additional key point. At present there is no single authoritative voice for communicating scientific findings into policy fora, and there is therefore a potential for mixed messages coming from a range of different organizations and processes using science to influence policy. Mixed messages can be put aside or ignored, but if a future IPBES could draw on available science in such a way as to bring scientists together and agree the key messages with policy-makers, then the resulting messages would carry far more weight, and have a far greater potential to influence policy.

Question 3: What is the history of proposals on other science-policy interfaces? Are there noteworthy differences in the consultative process towards an IPBES, in terms of participation and even facilitation, that make the envisioned IPBES unique or more likely to succeed? How have international climate change-related events and conversation shaped discussions on an IPBES?

 Many of those involved with the IPBES discussions will be aware of the IMoSEB consultation process that was completed in 2008, and at times there is a feeling that we are constantly discussing the same issues without resolution. However there is a significant difference with IPBES in that there is now an intergovernmental process under way, with negotiation amongst governments over what to set up and how. This does not mean that other stakeholders are not involved, and many other organizations are also contributing to the discussions either directly or indirectly.

Because of the role that IPCC has played over the years in informing the debate on climate change, there are inevitably comparisons being made with the role that IPBES might play with respect to biodiversity and ecosystem services. Indeed at the opening of the International Conference on “Biodiversity: Science and Governance” in Paris in January 2005, French President Jacques Chirac recognised the contribution that the IPCC had made to bringing about scientific consensus on the reality and significance of global warming, and  called for the establishment of something similar for biodiversity. Now, as the IPBES discussions progress, IPCC is being used as an example of how mechanisms can be set up.

Key to the current discussions, and to future implementation of an IPBES if that is what is agreed, is the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. These range from governments to scientific organizations, and from civil society organizations to United Nations agencies and programmes. All have a part to play in helping to ensure improvements in the ways in which science is used to inform decision making with respect to biodiversity and ecosystem services.