UN forms new biodiversity body

December 21, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 21 – A new international body aimed at catalysing a global response to the loss of biodiversity and world’s economically-important forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems was born on Monday by governments at the United Nations 65th General Assembly (UNGA).

It underlines a further success of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity and should provide a boost to the International Year of Forests which begins in January 2011, and the international decade of biodiversity, also beginning in January 2011.

The adoption, by the UNGA plenary, was the last approval needed for setting up an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Governments gave a green light to its establishment in June at a meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), but this required a resolution to be passed at the UNGA.

The independent platform will in many ways mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which has assisted in catalyzing worldwide understanding and governmental action on global warming.

The new body will bridge the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge on the accelerating declines and degradation of the natural world, with knowledge on effective solutions and decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends.

Its various roles will include carrying out high-quality peer reviews of the wealth of science on biodiversity and ecosystem services emerging from research institutes across the globe in order to provide gold standard reports to governments.

These reports will not only cover the state, status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems, but will also outline transformational policy options and responses to bring about real change in their fortunes.

The IPBES will achieve this in part by prioritising, making sense of and bringing consistency to the great variety of reports and assessments conducted by United Nations bodies, research centres, universities and others as they relate to biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“IPBES represents a major breakthrough in terms of organizing a global response to the loss of living organisms and forests, freshwaters, coral reefs and other ecosystems that underpin all life–including economic life–on Earth,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

"2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, began on a mute note after it emerged that no single country had achieved the target of substantially reversing the rate of loss of biodiversity. But it has ended on a far more positive one that underlines a new determination to act on the challenges and deliver the opportunities possible from a far more intelligent management of the planet’s nature-based assets,” he added.

Builds on Biological Diversity Convention Achievements

Mr Steiner said the sign-off by the UNGA came in the wake of the successes at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity that took place in Nagoya, Japan, in October.

Here governments adopted a new strategic plan including targets for addressing biodiversity loss to be met by 2020.

For example, governments agreed to increase the extent of land-based protected areas and national parks to 17 per cent of the Earth\’s surface, up from around 12.5 per cent now, and to extend marine protected areas to 10 per cent, up from under one per cent currently.

Other elements of the extensive plan include, by 2020 lifting the extinction risk from known threatened species.

The meeting agreed to study resource mobilization for assisting developing countries to meet the new targets in the plan based on a methodology that relates support to needs and gaps.

Other decisions included taking a \’precautionary approach\’ in terms of emerging areas such as geo-engineering in order to combat climate change and the development of synthetic biofuels.

Builds on Green Economy TEEB Successes

Nagoya also delivered a sea change in the global understanding of the multi-trillion dollar importance of biodiversity and forests, freshwaters and other ecosystems to the global economy and to national economies, and in particular for the "GDP of the poor".

The case has been built via The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), an initiative hosted by UNEP, requested by G-8 environment ministers as well as developing country ones and supported by the European Commission and governments including Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The TEEB partnership also brings together a wide network of contributing organizations, institutes and individuals from the world’s of science to economics from developing and developed countries.

In Nagoya the final global TEEB report—a major stream of the UNEP Green Economy Initiative– was launched as countries including Brazil and India announced they would be launching their own national TEEB studies.

A parallel and supporting partnership was also announced by the World Bank in collaboration with organizations including UNEP to \’green\’ national accounts in order to mainstream \’natural capital\’ within national economic and development plans.

The project is initially set to be implemented in between six and 10 countries including Colombia and Mexico.

Mr Steiner said the formal go-ahead for an IPBES meant much of what had been possible in 2010 had been transformed into a reality.

He said the UNGA backing now triggered a series of steps needed to get the work of the new body up and running.

UNEP, as the interim Secretariat, will now organize a plenary or meeting of governments in 2011 to decide on issues such as which country will house the independent IPBES and which institutions will host it alongside other institutional arrangements.

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