Biodiversity crisis summit kicks off in Colombia

March 18, 2018 by Joaquin Sarmiento, With Florence Panoussian In Bogota
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos delivers a speech during the opening of the sixth plenary session of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Medellin

A comprehensive, global appraisal of mass species extinction—and what can be done to reverse it—kicked off in Colombia's second-largest city Saturday, with more than 750 experts in attendance.

President Juan Manuel Santos opened the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) meeting in Medellin by stating that protecting biodiversity is "as important as fighting climate change."

Hundreds of scientists and government envoys are gathering at the event, which runs through March 26, to finalize details on five monumental reports designed to inform global policymaking into the future.

"Today the world is at a crossroads," added IPBES president Sir Robert Watson.

"The historic and current degradation and destruction of nature undermine human well being for current and countless future generations."

Compiled over the last three years, the reports will provide the most up-to-date picture of the health of the world's plants, animals and soil.

'Immensely ambitious'

The diagnosis will be unveiled in two parts.

First, on March 23, the IPBES will release separate assessments for the four regions into which it has divided the world—the Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia.

Orangutans in Borneo are just one of the world's many threatened species as Earth faces a biodiversity crisis

Then on March 26 a report will be released focusing on the global condition of soil, which is fast being degraded through pollution, forest-destruction, mining, and unsustainable farming methods that deplete its nutrients.

The evaluations took 600 volunteer scientists three years to complete, and includes summaries of data taken from about 10,000 scientific publications.

The end product covers the entire Earth apart from Antarctica and the open oceans—those waters beyond national jurisdiction.

Host Colombia claims it has the world's largest variety of birds and orchids, and is second only to Brazil in terms of overall species diversity.

Paradoxically, decades of Colombia's internal conflict have preserved fragile habitats in no-go zones of the country, whose mountainous topography supports 311 different ecosystems.

But 1,200 Colombian species are listed as threatened, due partly to pollution and forest-destruction caused by illicit drug production.

More than just a portrayal of doom and gloom, the latest assessments will include projections for future recovery or decline, and "suggestions for action," IPBES executive secretary Anne Larigauderie told AFP.

"An immensely ambitious challenge lies ahead of us this week," she said Saturday.

Hotspots where climate change puts species in some of the world's richest ecosystems at the greatest risk

The expert panel, she said, had compiled five assessment reports, each about 600-900 pages long and condensed into a 20-30 page "summary for policymakers."

These summaries must be officially adopted in Medellin before being sent to IPBES member states to guide policymaking in areas that affect biodiversity—everything from transport and infrastructure to farming, water management and education.

The reports however are not prescriptive. "We hope that this will help inform policy decisions to stem the loss of biodiversity and the fundamental services it provides us with," chief scientist Tom Brooks of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature told AFP.

Following the opening formalities late Saturday, delegates will hunker down for days of intense, "word-by-word" negotiations on the five summary documents.

The drafts in their current form will be presented to a joint IPBES meeting on Sunday, after which delegates will meet in five groups—one for each report.

Governments will have a final chance to request changes to the wording of the summaries. If the scientific authors disagree, a compromise must be found through negotiation.

The whole process has cost about $5 million (four million euros).

This complex drafting process, Larigauderie said, is crucial to get as many governments as possible on board, for a better chance of them adopting biodiversity-friendly policies as a result.

Explore further: Global biodiversity 'crisis' to be assessed at major summit

Related Stories

IPBES: The world's guardian of biodiversity

March 16, 2018

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), due to bring out a major assessment on the health of the world's species next week, is an independent body created by more than ...

Nature provides more to people than material benefits

January 19, 2018

The role of culture and diverse knowledge systems needs to be recognized when assessing nature's contributions to people, a new policy forum paper in Science states. Alexander van Oudenhoven and thirty global experts present ...

The sorry state of Earth's species, in numbers

March 16, 2018

As the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) prepares to unveil a thorough diagnosis of the health of Earth's plant and animal species, this is what we already know:

The UN guardians of biodiversity

February 26, 2016

A factfile on the IPBES, a UN-created panel with the colossal task of harvesting and distilling all available science on the health of Earth's plant and animal species and their habitats.

Bonn to house top UN panel on biodiversity

April 20, 2012

The former West German capital of Bonn has been chosen for the secretariat of a UN expert panel on biodiversity, the organisation announced on Thursday.

Recommended for you

The solid Earth breathes

March 26, 2019

The solid Earth breathes as volcanoes "exhale" gases like carbon dioxide (CO2)—which are essential in regulating global climate—while carbon ultimately from CO2 returns into the deep Earth when oceanic tectonic plates ...

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.