Although committed to protecting biodiversity, most of the world’s nations are not able to measure and assess their genetic and biological resources, nor the value of the key ecosystem services nature provides to them, international experts from 72 countries warned last week.
In addition to taxonomists, nations lack economists able to put a value on the water purification, storm protection and other services of nature, which would inform trade-off choices in development planning. And fewer nations still, deploy social scientists to estimate nature’s non-economic (e.g. cultural) values, or to find ways to effectuate needed changes in human attitudes and behaviour.
Those concerns drove a three-day meeting of 300 scientists in Malaysia, looking at how best to help countries develop relevant expertise across a span of disciplines to take up these critical tasks.
Strengthening the ability of nations to conduct biodiversity and ecosystem service-related assessments for better informed policy decision-making is a key mandate of the United Nation’s (UN) Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which organised the meeting, hosted by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and supported by the Government of Norway. IPBES is chaired by Prof. Emeritus Dato’ Sri Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
“Most nations have yet to devote adequate resources to properly measure and assess it [biodiversity] along with the value of ecosystem services. Correcting that, is a priority assignment from the world community to IPBES,” said Dato’ Sri Dr. Zakri, who also sits in the UN Secretary-General’s Science Advisory Board. He further said that biodiversity scientists, who see a crisis looming in the rapid rate of loss of species and ecosystem services, in many areas need to reach out further to key stakeholders.
The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, now under consideration, are expected to include biodiversity-related targets for achievement by 2030, together with indicators of progress, he said.
The capacity-building challenges are broken down into three immediate tasks: identify the widely-varying existing resources and needs of individual nations and regions, set priorities for helping them address deficits, and create a way to monitor the adequacy of national capacities on an ongoing basis.
Scientific papers have documented how biodiversity have benefited humans. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), for example, estimated in 2010 that 63 million hectares of wetlands provide some USD 3.4 billion in storm protection, food and other services to humans annually. Meanwhile, deforestation will cost the global economy up to USD 4.5 trillion every year. The rainforest in Malaysia itself is estimated to be around 130 million years old.
Sir Robert Watson, IPBES vice-chair, stressed that social scientists are needed to evaluate nature’s non-economic values to be factored also into trade-off considerations by policy-makers. He noted that the UK’s efforts at such an assessment involved detailed databases dating back several decades, a highly skilled scientific community, and about USD 5 million in expense despite the donation of time to the cause by many experts.
“In essence, three abilities are needed: generate knowledge, assess it, and then use it — in government, in private sector and civil society as well. Capacity building is needed everywhere.”
Some countries may begin by pooling and sharing resources to create, interpret and use at regional and sub-regional rather than strictly national assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The recommendations will be brought forward to the IPBES second world plenary session, December 9 – 14 in Antalya, Turkey.
(Source: MIGHT press release, 06.11.2013)