Yann Laurans is the Director of the Biodiversity & Ecosystems Programme at the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).
He answers the questions of the Tour du Valat regarding the 7th IPBEs plenary session in Paris from 29 April to 4 May 2019.
1) The 7th plenary session of the IPBES will be held in Paris from 29 April to 4 May 2019. What do you expect from it, and what critical questions must be addressed there?
We expect the same from it as those who were mobilised for the climate expected from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports in the 1990s. First of all, the IPCC reports succeeded in showing that the scientific consensus on climate warming and its causes was becoming almost unanimous, which reduced the ability of climate sceptics to oppose them. They also indicated, increasingly precisely, the underlying causes of the problem, such as greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. The same applies to biodiversity: negating the problem must be made more difficult, with resulting consequences on policy.
This 7th plenary session of the IPBES is particularly important: it must produce an agreement on the worldwide assessment of the situation of biodiversity, and through diplomatic negotiations agree upon a text that represents what governments admit, collectively, to be their vision of the biodiversity crisis, and also the interpretation of its causes.
We can hope that a powerful text will trigger—or at the very least encourage—positive changes in the policies implemented by governments, and in particular that it will lead to a higher priority in the political agenda for the effective implementation of biodiversity conservation and restoration strategies, in every country and within the scope of international agreements.
2) In late 2018, the Tour du Valat and MedWet published the second Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory (MWO) report on Mediterranean wetlands, which confirms the alarming decline of these ecosystems and the serious consequences for populations, in a zone in which tensions are already very strong. How will this particular question be taken up in Paris?
The Global Biodiversity Assessment report will definitely be very complete and it should show that wetlands are the most heavily impacted areas of the major ecological units. We must hope that this is clearly identified and fully integrated into the policy text (the Summary for policymakers, which will be negotiated and submitted to a majority vote).
And we must especially hope, and that is more complicated, that the appropriate consequences be drawn in terms of sectoral issues such as agricultural development, the utilisation of forests and the coast, artificialisation, and fishing.
3) More generally speaking, whereas in recent decades IPCC publications have helped to make people really more aware of the issues linked to climate change, the dramatic decline of biodiversity is still much too inadequately taken into account by decision-makers and citizens. How can the IPBES strategy rectify this lack of political attention?
The causes and consequences of the biodiversity crisis vary a great deal according to geographical location and cover a wide range of questions. The IPBES has adopted a work programme that aims to shed light in particular on subjects already of concern to the general public, as was the case in the past with pollinators such as bees, to propose complete scientific studies to fight against ignorance, and, finally, to investigate subjects that are likely to block or drive forward action, such as the sustainable use of biodiversity, and acknowledging the multiple values attached to it.
The IPBES Platform has thus made an effort to put pertinent and complementary questions on its own agenda. We are forced to admit, however, that for the-time being these reports have not had the media and political impact that corresponds to the urgency of the moment. Our efforts must be intensified.
4) During IPCC plenary meetings, environmental NGOs have successfully taken advantage of the media attention to influence political and economic decision-makers. Do you think that NGOs will be able to do the same thing in Paris vis-à-vis the question of biodiversity, and if so, how?
C’est donc à la société civile d’aller au-delà du résumé pour décideurs, et de se servir du rapport pour relayer ces messages et mettre en débat, parfois sous la pression, les trajectoires de développement qui sous-tendent la crise de la biodiversité.
Le public est aujourd’hui sensibilisé au problème, mais il faut faire apparaître clairement la manière dont celui-ci renvoie à des choix de société concrets.
We must remember that this influence on climate issues did not emerge in one day, and the biodiversity crisis came to light more recently than climate change. I think environmental NGOs do have a role to play, particularly in terms of adding a diplomatic dimension to the IPBES Platform.
An IPBES plenary meeting (just as an IPCC plenary session) is two different things: On the one hand, it is the text of a summary for policymakers, which is negotiated line-by-line by the delegations that cannot go beyond the balances and trade-offs already decided within each government, and which is therefore rather generic and general; on the other hand, it is a scientific report written by experts, which contains a wealth of information, warnings, and indicators, and which often indicates rather precisely and specifically, the causes, behaviour, and political and technological choices that are responsible for the degradation of ecosystems.
So it is up to civil society to go beyond the summary for policymakers, and use the report to convey these messages and organise debates, sometimes under pressure, about the development paths implied by the biodiversity crisis.
Today, the general public is aware of the issue, but we must show people how it is linked to the concrete choices made by and for society.
Contact: Yann Laurans (e-mail)