3 July 2012
A Step Change for Biodiversity Knowledge
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With the long-awaited Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) finally underway, how can we make the best use of the new Platform to advance the understanding of our planet's life support system and strengthen science-policy links on biodiversity and its benefits?

After years of international negotiations, the world has just seen the establishment of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a top global platform that is to regularly assess the state of biodiversity, our fragile ecosystems and the essential services they provide to all of us.

The hopes are high for IPBES to become an authoritative global mechanism recognized by scientists and policy makers alike to pull together dispersed information, syntheses and analyses on biodiversity and ecosystems. By building on existing processes and initiatives, and only creating new ones as a last resort in case of glaring gaps, the intention is that decisions and research investment will be more efficient.

There is no question that there is an impressive amount of knowledge already out there – generated by a wide variety of actors, including governments, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and indigenous communities.

As a Union comprising government and civil society Members, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is well placed to bring together key actors at all levels. IUCN is a leading provider of biodiversity knowledge, tools and standards used to influence policy, undertake conservation planning and guide action on the ground.

IUCN knowledge products have a history dating from IUCN’s establishment in 1948 and the earliest lists of extinct species and species at risk of extinction, maintained through index-card systems and data sheets on wild mammals and birds. Since 1962, IUCN’s work in compiling information on protected areas such as World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Sites and UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserves and contribution to the production of the UN List of Protected Areas have been recognized under a mandate from the UN General Assembly.

This has been possible through the scientific expertise and support of some 11,000 experts associated to IUCN through its six Commissions: the Commission on Education and Communication (CEC); the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP); the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL); the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM); the Species Survival Commission (SSC); and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

Set up as “networks of expert volunteers entrusted to develop and advance the institutional knowledge and experience and objectives of IUCN,” the Commissions enable IUCN to link to cutting-edge science to advance knowledge, policy and action.

IUCN’s best-known knowledge products, such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and Protected Planet (including the World Database on Protected Areas), as well as emerging ones, such as the IUCN standard for identification of areas of global significance for biodiversity (“key biodiversity areas”), and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, would not be possible without the rigor and dedication of our Commission scientists and experts.

All IUCN knowledge products are underpinned by science, used to build capacity, support policy making, and relevant to the IPBES functions and possible elements of its work programme. They have already contributed to valuable global assessments and analyses, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, and the Global Biodiversity Outlooks. IUCN data are also used to measure progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

IUCN is offering these knowledge products to IPBES as a contribution to establishing a firm strategic partnership, supporting the development of the IPBES workplan and thereby delivering crucial information to decision makers.

Of course, the biggest challenge for IPBES remains bridging the gap between science and policy makers. As we have seen in the climate change arena, unless we actually follow the recommendations of scientific bodies, we have little hope of tackling the accelerating worldwide loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services. Only then can we truly achieve a step change in the way we generate, distribute and use biodiversity knowledge.

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