Global biodiversity panel holds first plenary meeting

Water pollution and depletion will be among the panel's focus areas Copyright: Flickr/SJ Photography

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The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) held its first plenary meeting last week (21–26 January), during which the science panel that will advise on the latest relevant research and data was appointed.

IPBES was established in April 2012 as an independent, intergovernmental body, modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to assess the state of the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Its members convened in Bonn, Germany, at a meeting billed as IPBES’s first plenary.


  • Delegates herald ‘dynamic, well-functioning’ biodiversity panel
  • First plenary meeting appoints chairman and scientific expert panel
  • Budget of US$3.1 million agreed for 2013, with ecosystem restoration a key primary focus

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told the meeting that "evidence-based policymaking requires more, reliable data on the state of the environment" and that "improving access to information is essential".  

He told delegates their task was to "put in place the administrative, personnel and leadership features — the nuts and bolts if you will — that will ensure IPBES is a dynamic, well-functioning, efficient, effective and respected platform".

Zakri Abdul Hamid, science advisor to Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, was appointed by delegates as the first chair of IPBES.

The chair will alternate every three years between developed and developing countries, with Robert Watson, a former IPCC chairman and professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, due to take over from Zakri.

But there were tough negotiations over the appointment of the 25-member scientific advisory panel, known as the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), which will report to the IPBES Bureau.

Five experts from each of the five UN regions were selected to serve on the MEP, initially for two years. But delegates said the pool of candidates put forward by governments was not as large as expected and that nominations were skewed towards certain regions.

For example, western nations had 32 candidates vying for just five MEP seats, while some regions scrambled to find enough nominees to meet their regional allocation.

Anne Larigauderie, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research programme DIVERSITAS, and head of the International Council for Science (ICSU) delegation at IPBES, tells SciDev.Net the science community is also concerned about the balance of disciplines.

The MEP includes several economists but certain scientists, particularly behavioural scientists, are not well represented, Larigauderie told SciDev.Net. "Countries and stakeholders are aware of this problem," she adds. "A mechanism will have to be put in place to ensure a proper balance."

"There was too much focus on the regional membership rather than ensuring the panel was multidisciplinary," Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, executive director of the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) at the UN University, in Bonn, said.

However, "the panel itself is not going to do the actual scientific work," he added, but will use their knowledge and contacts to "mobilise people to come on board".

Although specific topics will be decided at the second plenary in December, the MEP will begin work immediately. "Some immediate activities will include prioritising the requests for scientific reports that members will be invited to submit very soon," Larigauderie said.

Immediate priority areas include thematic assessments on the consequences of ocean acidification, on ecosystem restoration, or on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

IPBES will also quantify the damage inflicted on life-sustaining ecosystems, from depleted water tables and deracinated (uprooted) mangroves, to air and water pollution.

Delegates agreed a budget of US$3.1 million for 2013, with pledges amounting to US$2.54 million already made by Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Other countries — including Chile, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and South Africa — said they would pledge funds to IPBES, but have not yet specified amounts.

Link to MEP members