Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why Does the World Need IPBES?

by Kai Chan (disclosure: I'm not unbiased re: IPBES; I'm involved, as explained below) Edited for public consumption 2017.11.27
IPBES (the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is operating on a shoestring budget to provide a critical service to humanity. But the funding will need to be renewed in 2020 and there is great uncertainty regarding the commitments nations will make given the current geopolitical context. So it’s worth pondering, why—after all—does the world need IPBES?
The usual argument against IPBES being an essential global institution is that problems of nature and its benefits to people (biodiversity and ecosystem services) are local or regional problems, unlike climate change. Without global dynamics, goes this argument, there’s no need for a global institution. Personally, I have wondered whether this is true. Even as late as mid-September, I wasn't sure if IPBES really was needed.
But problems of nature are global problems, in three key ways.
Male peacock spider: not only vertebrates are cool (Wiki).
Check out this amazing video of a courtship dance.
First, our responsibility for nature is global. Our grandchildren will thank us for saving wildlife and wild spaces wherever they occur. Correspondingly, if we fail to prioritize this, they will surely blame us for it, whether the extinguished flora and fauna are tropical rainforests, Arctic tundra, coral reefs, peacock spiders, tigers or emperor penguins—regardless of whether these wonders fall within our national borders.
Second, what happens elsewhere affects us here. ‘Telecoupling’ is real: when Indonesian forest fires associated with industrial agriculture choked much of Equatorial Asia with smoke and smog, over 100,000 people likely died prematurely in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia (NYTimes, ERL). 
Smoke from Indonesian forest fires, courtesy of NASA
 When expanding deserts in China—due to overgrazing, ‘bad cultivation’ and deforestation—allowed winds to pick up thousands of tons of fine sediment, people halfway across the world experienced yellow dust. This dust, which has been found in New Zealand and the French Alps, is estimated to cost Korea and Japan billions of dollars each year (Conversation). And the ongoing improper handling of plastics in many nations has resulted in a massive gyre of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean and our seafood being laced with plastic nodules—such that seafood eaters are likely consuming many thousands of pieces every year (Telegraph, Scientific Reports). Similarly, industrial processes have resulted in high levels of mercury, PCBs, and dioxins in many fish species, especially predators like swordfish, salmon, tuna, and mackerel. All that is just a handful of the ways that what happens far away matters locally.
Ocean plastics in Hawai'i (NOAA)
Third, what we do here drives what happens there. Have you eaten a candy bar recently? Some other processed food (much of which contains palm oil, whose production fuels the aforementioned land-use change and fires in Indonesia)? Then you’re complicit in the Indonesian fires. Do you eat imported meat and rice? If so, you’re partly responsible for the dust storms from Asia, as global markets spread our demand across distant sites of production. Do you use plastic products or anything with plastic production? Then you, like me, are complicit in the mass plasticization of the oceans.
Nature problems are global problems, so we need a concerted global effort to synthesize and advance the understanding of these problems—and their ultimate causes. By doing this, IPBES can enable appropriate responses among governments, NGOs, and the private sector. And when responses aren’t appropriate, this rigorously synthesized global information will enable other actors to hold their feet to the fire. Governments: keep funding IPBES. In fact, double your contribution, or more.

Clearly, IPBES can't solve these problems alone--and if you know me and CoSphere you know I think there are solutions to all these problems--but IPBES has a crucial role to play, as I'll explain in subsequent blog posts.

Readers: if you see the benefits of IPBES given the global nature of these problems, please like and share this page with the #fundIPBES hashtag. As a coordinating lead author of IPBES's Global Assessment and with other IPBES authors, I will use your support to convey the public support for continued and enhanced funding for IPBES to governments around the world.

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