Ideological Clash among Scientists could undermine a Crucial Biodiversity Assessment


#biodiversity #CBD #IPBES #science-policy #chemicals & waste #sustainable development

IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), a younger sibling to the Nobel-prizewinning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is supposed to provide scientific advice on one of the world's most intractable problems - the rapidly accelerating loss of plants and animals bodiversity. But there has been a rift in the research community, which risks diminishing the whole effort, at a critical time preparing its global biodiversity report.

The issues underlying the rift reflect broader debates in science about traditional power structures and increasing access for underrepresented groups, as well as opposition to dominant economic systems: developed v.s. developing countries, ecologists v.s. those from broader disciplines, experts v.s. non-academics e.g. farmers, citizen scientists and indigenous peoples.

Although the current controversy has roots that reach back decades, it has heated up since 2016, when IPBES published an 800-page assessment on pollination. It includes a chapter on the economics of pollination, which, however, was largely omitted from the report's summary, the section that most policymakers would read. Some scientists argue for greater prominence for such economic analysis as a way of quantifying the importance of species such as pollinators. But for the IPBES leadership, doing so would privilege one branch of economics above other disciplines and neglect non-monetary ways to value species, a way to accommodate many developing countries concern that monetary valuation is a 'Western' view of nature.

One of the main points of contention is the concept of 'ecosystem services', an idea that gained prominence in 2001 at the start of the last big international assessment of biodiversity, the Millennium Assessment. Ecosystem services are those ecological characteristics, functions or processes that directly or indirectly contribute to human well-being. Ecologists consciously adopted economic language as a way to attract politicians and other policymakers in familiar terms. There are alternative assessment frameworks being proposed, e.g. Nature's Contribution to People which will include the knowledge of indigenous communities, as well as researchers from developing countries. Many non-Western approaches to biodiversity are less reductive and more holistic, says Sebsebe Demissew, who heads the Gullele Botanic Garden in Addis Ababa and was a former member of IPBES's expert scientific panel. "In such cultures, it makes no sense to place a monetary value on a forest or a river because they are part of the whole body. It's like saying to a human: 'what price, your limb? Or what price, your kidney?'"

There is no perfect way of biodiversity loss evaluation, and science always welcomes discussion and improvement. But the biggest concerns is that policy-makers will stop paying attention at the first sight of squabbling scientists. IPBES is also undergoing an external assessment that is due to report by May next year. The reviewers are well aware of the rift and the risk it poses to IPBES's ambitions for persuading policymakers to take steps that will reduce the loss of biodiversity.

Under the science-policy interface discussion of sound management of chemicals and wastes, IPBES has been proposed as a model to learn from, as there's much similarities between these two fields of study. It's not only the biodiversity community looking at this rift solving...

Please refer to the original news Feature on Nature for more information