No ordinary week for ecologists – launch of the IPCC for the ecological crisis

Reblogged from INNGE's blog - originally posted [Sat, 04/13/2013 - 14:43]


9 months ago in Panama 96 countries finally decided that the future of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is of such importance that it needs its own IPCC-like organ. Although the final look of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has not yet been decided, that is essentially what its role will be and that is no small thing for the field of ecology. This week marks the first official plenary meeting of the platform. The plenary takes place in Bonn, Germany, the home of the IPBES secretariat.

IPBES, although still just another obscure acronym to many, will in the coming decades without doubt have a central role in the ecological sciences. At INNGE we will make an effort to communicate the activities of IPBES to the next generation of ecologists for whom it will hopefully become a valuable resource and an exciting experience.

This blog post aim’s to 1) Briefly highlight a couple of the key debates about IPBES, 2) Provide a list of resources with insights in to what IPBES is and how one can best follow the latest IPBES buzz. If you know of other IPBES resources that you think are missing please comment on this post. Enjoy!

1) The IPBES debates

Scope and scientific discourse

Prominent in the discussion about IPBES is the question of how narrowly or how linearly IPBES should be build, to what extent it should draw on a wider range of knowledge resources, and take the shape of a regionally distributed network.

In a Nature Comment Turnhout and colleagues (2012) argue that ”The intergovernmental body for biodiversity must draw on a much broader range of knowledge and stakeholders than the IPCC” With that in mind they propose some “Rules of engagement for the IPBES” a few of which are either slightly modified or paraphrased below.

IPBES should

• Operate not as a centralized global organization, but as global coordinator of a distributed network, sensitive to local knowledge, needs and conditions.

• Facilitate broad discussion of the terms and methodologies used to define, understand, assess and conserve biodiversity; and be explicit about contested assumptions.

• Expert panels should include natural and social scientists, humanities researchers, biodiversity practitioners and indigenous-knowledge networks, with accreditation criteria and selection processes made public.*

• Embrace dissenting views and perspectives to build trust among represented parties — for example, through minority reporting instead.

Koetz and colleagues (2011) identify the institutional design as being potentially very important for the success of IPBES:

“… we propose that science-policy interfaces can be understood as institutions and that implementation failures in international environmental governance may be attributed, in part, to institutional mismatches associated with poor design of these institutions.”

And more specifically:

“… There remain substantial tensions between continuing reliance on the established linear approach and an emerging collaborative approach, which can be expected to continue undermining the credibility, relevance and legitimacy of these institutions, at least in the near future.”

Identification of scientific challenges

Anne Larigauderie and Hal Mooney (2010) of DIVERSITAS and Stanford University identify several key challenges for scientists in IPBES, among them evaluation of uncertainty in prediction scenarios (paraphrased below):

“… One of many such challenges relates to models and scenarios.” despite progress, “… rigorous evaluation of uncertainty in model projections has been lacking”. To solve this, “… a much broader range of models of global change impacts on biodiversity is needed, models need to be validated with observational data and experiments, and a broader range of socio-economic scenarios need to be developed.”

The role of learned societies

Finally there seems to be agreement that this is a highly important opportunity for learned societies and ecologists in general to advance the impact of their science and the science of their field. In that context Pe’er and colleagues (2013) discusses the Society for Conservation Biology and other learned societies’ role in IPBES, and concludes:

“The IPBES offers an important opportunity for the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) and other learned societies to provide decision makers with objective, peer-reviewed information and to participate in forming policies that affect biodiversity.“

If this doesn’t take care of your hopefully growing interest in IPBES, don’t worry. Below are just some of the valuable resources.

2) Get your IPBES fix through…

Just like everyone else, IPBES has an official website, and here’s the link to IPBES 1, the first plenary session. IPBES even has a Twitter handle @IPBES. A very cool feature of is the part serving as acomprehensive catalog of previous ecological assessments.

Daily meeting reports

During many UN meetings, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has specialized in providing daily and post-conference summarizes of meeting activities. IPBES is no exception: You can see the summaries of Day 1 and 2 here, and dive into the world of international environmental policy negotiation procedures.

Documents for the first plenary

Between the many procedural documents you can find information about nominations for the multidisciplinary expert panel (addendum) and draft procedures for production of the assessment reports and their scope. On page 29 of a report from an informal workshop that you we find a collection of conceptual frameworks for ecology that might be applied to IPBES.

A stakeholder list-serve

A Google Group established by IUCN serves as Stakeholder Forum for the IPBES. Visit the group to sign up and stay informed. As it says, this group is for everybody interested:

“This is a new email discussion group for everyone interested in advancing the involvement of scientists, conservation organizations, businesses and other civil society actors in theIntergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). You are welcome to ask questions, share your experience, post relevant news and exchange opinions.”


Several international NGO’s are involved the IPBES process following it as observers. Some of the major ones are listed here: International Council for Science (ICSU) , DIVERSITAS and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Literature cited:

Koetz, T., K. N. Farrell, and P. Bridgewater. 2011. Building better science-policy interfaces for international environmental governance: assessing potential within the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 12:1–21. doi: 10.1007/s10784-011-9152-z.

Larigauderie, A., and H. A. Mooney. 2010. The Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: moving a step closer to an IPCC-like mechanism for biodiversity. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2:9–14. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2010.02.006.

Pe’er, G., J. A. McNeely, M. Dieterich, B.-G. Jonsson, N. Selva, J. M. Fitzgerald, and C. Nesshöver. 2013. IPBES: Opportunities and Challenges for SCB and Other Learned Societies. Conservation Biology 27:1–3. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12000.

Turnhout, E., B. Bloomfield, M. Hulme, J. Vogel, and B. Wynne. 2012. Conservation policy: Listen to the voices of experience. Nature 488:454–5. Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved. doi: 10.1038/488454a.