WHILE climate change concerns have been expressed at several G20 meetings in the past, the most recent G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan marked the first time that the issue of biodiversity loss shared the centre stage.
A final communique from the leaders’ forum of 19 countries and the European Union included the following: “Noting the important work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sources (IPBES), and in the light of recent extreme weather events and disasters, we recognise the urgent need for addressing complex and pressing global issues and challenges.
“This includes climate change, resource efficiency, air, land, fresh water and marine pollution, including marine plastic litter, biodiversity loss, sustainable consumption and production, urban environmental quality and other environmental issues, and for promoting and leading energy transitions, with the best available science, while promoting sustainable growth.”
The declaration noted a paradigm shift needed to achieve the ideal of environmental sustainability and economic growth, accelerated through innovations, with business communities playing an important role in synergy with the public sector.
The reference to IPBES is the result of a stark report it released on May 6 in Paris that warned that, without “transformative change”, one million of the world’s eight million plant and animal species are being pushed to extinction, many of them within the next few decades, with serious consequences for the rest of life on Earth — humanity included.
The report is based on a review of more than 15,000 scientific and government sources, compiled by hundreds of expert authors from 50 countries, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors — the first comprehensive look at the state of the planet’s biodiversity since 2005.
It also systematically incorporated, for the first time, indigenous and local knowledge.
The authors found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline and ranked the major drivers of species decline: land conversion, including deforestation; overfishing, bush meat hunting, poaching and other forms of overexploitation; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.
It is a damning assessment of an accelerating problem that undermines our ability to reduce poverty, achieve food and water security, improve human health, and other key global objectives.
It is interesting to consider how the IPBES report achieved such prominent traction in the world’s top political echelons.
And, as cliché as it sounds, it’s always good to have friends in high places.
After the report launch in Paris, a delegation of IPBES leaders met at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron, who promised to advance their cause.
“What is at stake is the very possibility of having a habitable Earth,” Macron said at the time.
“Biodiversity is as important a subject as climate change and we can’t win this battle without working all the levers,” he stressed.
And indeed, biodiversity will be further stressed next month when Macron hosts the G7 in a French resort town, Biarritz.
French leadership on biodiversity has deep roots, Macron’s effort cements a monumental initiative started by one of his predecessors, Jacques Chirac.
In 2005, at an international conference called ‘Biodiversity: Science and Governance’, then-president Chirac called for the creation of just an intergovernmental expert platform on biodiversity as IPBES, and committed France to mobilising collective support for it and the development of an ambitious global biodiversity framework.
Malaysia’s then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was among the world leaders invited to that meeting, a recognition of Malaysia both as an important mega diverse country and as a leading player in many international biodiversity meetings.
One take-home lesson for the scientific community is to note that although we could be excellent knowledge generators and gatherers, in today’s complex world, we need to link up with our political leaders for our voices to be amplified and heard.
This could be no better exemplified than the collaboration between former US vice-president Al Gore and the IPCC on climate change.
The panel reports its findings every six years. But it was the charismatic Gore who truly drove home and galvanised world attention on the dangers of global warming.
Sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC, Gore was recognised by the Nobel Committee as “one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians” and “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted”.
The need for a strong connection between science and policy is never lost within the scientific community.
The IPCC and IPBES are two highly successful mechanisms for achieving that, and others are in the works.
At the World Economic Forum last January, the Sweden-based Future Earth organisation and partners announced their intent to launch an “Earth Commission”.
Envisioned is a group of top scientists who assess existing research to provide the science needed to define targets for sustaining the resilience of our planet’s life support systems.
It is my hope that the International Network for Government Science Advice, founded in 2014, will become another successful stage on which science and public policy can convene and intertwine.
The writer is the founding chair of IPBES (2013-2016)