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The experts agree on an equivalent of the IPCC for biodiversity

When will there be an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity along the lines of the IPCC for climate change?

The specialists are hoping such a structure can be set up by the end of 2008. In November, almost 80 of them met in Montpellier and agreed on the remit for such a panel: to provide both independent and credible expertise, build regional and local scientific capacity, make knowledge more accessible and improve the interface between science and policy.

These conclusions are the fruit of two and a half years of international and regional deliberations, organized on all five continents by the Steering Committee for an IMoSEB (International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity)*. The specialists are planning to organize an intergovernmental conference in 2008, in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which should serve to determine how the structure could be set up.

So that nobody can say in future "we didn't know"

In particular, the conference should take account of the results and consequences of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) conducted between 2001 and 2005 to estimate the impact of human activity on the environment and, conversely, the way in which such changes affect future prospects for terms of human health and wellbeing. The biodiversity experts and those involved in the MEA have a similar view of the current issues surrounding biodiversity. It is not enough to draw up a list of threatened or extinct species. Biodiversity needs to be seen as a whole, in terms of management but also of environmental services rendered, for instance from the point of view of adaptation to climate change.

The disappearance of some species can have dramatic consequences for animal - and subsequently for human - health. For instance, entire regions, such as certain valleys in Nepal, no longer have any pollinators. Another example is the appearance in certain geographical zones of living organisms - seafood toxins, animal viruses, fruit tree parasites - that disrupt the ecosystem and can have serious economic and sanitary consequences.

One idea is to set up a panel of experts drawn from the range of existing networks. International bodies and NGOs need to be involved in the process. All the multilateral agreements are also concerned: the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the World Heritage Convention, the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that on Migratory Species (CMS), and regional agreements, not forgetting the conventions on climate change and desertification. Everyone needs to realize the merits of setting up a heavyweight federative structure to ensure that nobody - politicians, scientists, economic players or public opinion - can say in future "we didn't know".

The French government is backing the initiative

The ball is now in the politicians' court. The French government has confirmed its support for the initiative. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the Secretary of State for Ecology, who was at the Montpellier meeting, stressed the importance of the initiative with regard to the recent "Grenelle de l’Environnement" talks in France. The Minister for Higher Education and Research, Valérie Pécresse, who met Didier Babin, a CIRAD researcher and executive secretary of the process towards an IMoSEB the day after the event, is now due to submit the idea to her peers.

* The executive secretariat of IMoSEB has been entrusted to the Institut français de la biodiversité (IFB), of which CIRAD is a member.

Helen Burford | alfa
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