Assessment or not assessment: struggling with the adoption of the scoping report on sustainable use

[Thematic background]

by Dr. Katja Heubach, NeFo, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung -UFZ 

Albeit having been the result of a quite exhaustive, three weeks lasting online drafting process that involved more than 200 experts, the scoping report for the assessment on sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity (deliverable 3biii) is anything but an easy-to-go-through document (IPBES/4/11) [pdf]. In the first session on this matter which took place in today`s late afternoon session, member states reacted fairly distinct to each other.

The scoping for this assessment was agreed upon by IPBES-3 in January 2015. It was one of two scopings which pioneered to be conducted virtually via an e-conference. This was meant to not only reduce costs to a minimum, given that IPBES still lacks roughly half of the budget to carry out all its activities planned until 2019. This virtual discussion furthermore was meant to allow for a much greater contribution of experts around the world than a physical one. Essentially, both goals came off. The scoping has cost a fraction of a face-to-face meeting and succeeded to involve many more experts than it would have otherwise.

However, the result of this e-consultation seems not entirely convincing to quite a number of member states. Particularly the western, industrialised ones, namely Norway, Japan, Germany, and the U.S., vehemently expressed that the document is largely half-baked and requires a thorough revision if to develop into a coherent document. Next to discrepancies within the text related to terminology – for instance, the terms sustainable use versus sustainable management seem to be confused within the text – the overall scope of the assessment still remains unclear.

Yet another great question mark appears with regard to the intersection of this assessment with the regional and global ones. In the scoping report it is argued that there will be a strong coherence with the four regional assessments of IPBES which should be realised by covering three categories of use of wild species identified to be important uses in all four of the regions. However, several Lead Authors involved in the regional assessments doubt the added value of an extra assessment over the ongoing ones when more or less covering what is worked on already. The above mentioned member states, thus, insist on more clarity how assessments will be coupled. The same holds true for the global assessment. The challenge here is further that the global assessment – likewise as the assessment on sustainable use – also yet is just a scoping report under current IPBES-4 discussions.

Notwithstanding those concerns – which are explicitly shared by the MEP members responsible for this deliverable – several governments of the less industrialised, southern regions are pushing to discuss and approve the document during IPBES-4, so to start immediately afterwards. Above all, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa have taken the floor repeatedly to state the importance of such an assessment for their countries. Out of the question is sustainable use of paramount importance for those regions, with the majority of their large industries depend on natural resources, so do millions of households in both rural and urban areas. However, does it make sense to start with something that is half-baked?

While allowing for an in-depth revision – then probably as a physical rather than a virtual meeting – postponing the discussion on the scoping document for another year would have an additional benefit for IPBES: to ease the challenge to scraping together sufficient money for implementing the current IPBES work programme. In light of the few and very low pledges that have been made during yesterday’s plenary session, this might indeed be a convincing argument. In any case, the countries who desperately want the assessment on sustainable use will not be the ones financing it.

Further Information on this topic:

Results of the Working Group on the Scoping [pdf] of a thematic assessment on sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity and strengthening capacities and tools (IPBES deliverable 3(b)(iii)) 4. National IPBES Forum 28./29.01.2016 Bonn