Friday, March 23, 2018

IPBES assessment reports

Biodiversity and nature's contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth - they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life. 
Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES

Four peer-reviewed assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) focus on providing answers to key questions for different regions, including: why is biodiversity important, where are we making progress, what are the main threats and opportunities for biodiversity and how can we adjust our policies and institutions for a more sustainable future? 

The result of three years of work, the four regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia. In every region, with the exception of a number of positive examples where lessons can be learned, biodiversity and nature's capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures - habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change, among others.

IPBES has today released the Summary for Policymakers of each of the four reports. The summaries present the key messages and policy options from each assessment, as approved by the IPBES Plenary. The complete reports (inclusive of all data) will be published later this year. 

As much as I appreciate and welcome such global studies that highlight humanity's negative impact on our planet resulting in a irrecoverable loss of life I am critical of meta-studies. It might sound paradox that I consider such a huge body of work not comprehensive enough but for realistic biodiversity estimates we need to dig deeper. Indirect measures and focus on key species is pragmatic given limited resources and already a lot of work for a lot of colleagues, but it likely shows only the tip of the iceberg. If you don't know how many species are out there let alone what they are doing (or in this context what ecosystem services they might provide) it is hard to quantify the true extent of loss of diversity. We might never know how many species have already disappeared and what cascading effects are already underway or waiting to happen. I am not saying reports like this one are futile, quite the contrary. Humanity needs to know where we are heading but I think some serious considerations of potential underestimates and adaptation of methodology are needed. I am not seeing  any inclusion of DNA-based methods in the reports but without the full reports one can't be 100% sure.

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