UN Setting IPCC-like Panel for Global Biodiversity

Biodiversity advocates have struggled to sound
alarms about the accelerating rate of species

UN set for IPCC-type panel on biodiversity

BONN, Germany (AFP) – UN members took a key step
here Thursday towards creating a paramount
scientific panel on biodiversity similar to the
Nobel-winning group that helped drive climate
change to the top of the global agenda.

“The process is on track now,” Didier Babin, the
French researcher charged in 2005 with getting
the project off the ground, told AFP.

The initiative aims to set up an independent
authority on species loss on the lines of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
which co-won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for
its work on summarising the evidence for global

Babin said the scheme was approved in principle
by a committee vote at the UN Convention on
Biodiversity in Bonn.

A high-level intergovernmental meeting in
November will “finalise and launch the
mechanism,” he said.

More than 6,000 representatives from 191
countries are meeting in Bonn this week to try to
hammer out a road map for saving Earth’s
vanishing flora and fauna, much of it in tropical
rainforests and the sea.

Biodiversity advocates, inside and outside
government, have struggled for decades to sound
alarms about the accelerating rate of species
extinction, and its potentially dire consequences
for mankind.

But their call to action has gone largely
unheeded, muted by bureaucratic inertia and a
lack of public awareness.

The issue global warming faced similar hurdles
and skepticism until last year, when several
factors converged to transform climate change
from a slightly arcane subject of scientific
debate into a powerful driver of economic and
political policy.

A major role in this process was played by the
IPCC’s Assessment Report, the fourth since 1992.

Its conclusion was as inescapable as it was
authoritative: man-made climate change could
drive planet Earth to the brink of disaster
during the course of this century. The 2007 Nobel
Peace Prize only served to drive home their

“The IPCC is a very strong model that we would
like to emulate for any assessment on
biodiversity,” said Abdul Zakri, who co-chaired
the UN’s 2005 Millennium Ecosytems Assessment,
and spearheaded the new initiative in Asia.

An authoritative panel would lend scientific
credibility and underscore the urgency of
biodiversity issues, he said.

“We need the political legitimacy — the
political ‘buy in’ — from the members states” of
the Convention, he told AFP.

The problems stemming from biodiversity loss are
no less urgent than climate change, expert argue,
ranging from degraded human habitats, to the
disappearance of species that hold great promise
for new medicines.

More than 60 percent of what scientists call
ecosystem services have been degraded,
compromising the environment’s ability to produce
food, clean water and clear air, according to the
2005 UN report.

But the urgency is more difficult to convey.

“When you talk about climate change, all you need
to do is show an iceberg melting or barren peak
of Mount Kilimanjaro, and you have made your
case,” said Zakri.

“When it comes to biodiversity — which is really
the totality of life on Earth — people don’t
really understand what is at stake,” he said.

Babin hopes the new scientific panel will produce
its first global report by 2012, and says interim
reports on topics such a biofuels are likely. “We
have the scientists ready to contribute,” he said.

But some nations are still hesitating, according to Zakri.

“If there is a global process for assessing the
state of biodiversity they become concerned that
their sovereignty might be in jeopardy,” he said.

They are also worried about where the money will come from, he added.
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