IPBES currently counts 127 member States and it relies heavily on the support of these States in the implementation of all activities (e.g. financing and nomination of experts). Five years after its creation, IPBES still counts few West-African States and the overall involvement of the region in IPBES’ work programme activities (e.g. as experts or members of MEP/Bureau) is low relative to that of other regions. (It should be noted though that one of the two African representatives and vice chair of the Bureau is from West Africa: Alfred Oteng Yeboah from Ghana).
In Spring 2017, together with West African and European partners, the Centre for Development Research (ZEF, Bonn), launched a project on West African Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – WABES, funded by the German Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. WABES is an initiative to facilitate networking and capacity-building in West-Africa to support the work programme of IPBES. To reach this goal, over the next 5 years WABES will implement four activities:
1. Annual workshops with West African biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) experts
2. Development of a curriculum and establishment of an MSc programme in Cote d’Ivoire
3. Monitoring concept and ‘lessons learned’ as role model for related initiatives
4. Web-based regional information platform to link experts and to channel information
From 28-30 November 2017, WABES held its first regional workshop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, with representatives from 13 West-African countries (plus two additional African countries and four European countries), more details below. Workshop participants were also invited to visit and tour the state of the art PSI centre of research of the Université Felix Houphouet-Boigny, thus witnessing the importance given by the country to research and innovation activities. The visit to the PSI provided the perfect opportunity to officially launch the Masters of Science programme developed by WABES on ‘Managing the Science-Policy Interface on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for sustainable development in West-Africa’: SPIBES. The MSc programme will start in January 2018 after a language levelling course for both Francophone and Anglophone students. In the first two years of SPIBES, one student from each ECOWAS country will be fully funded by WABES, thereby strengthening the networks of early career scientists/professionals in the region and allowing time to find longer term funding sources for the programme to ensure its continuity.
The regional workshop itself included a session presenting IPBES and its activities; a session on the role Africa has played in IPBES to date; a session with national IPBES focal points from West Africa presenting the situation in their country; a session on IPBES capacity building; a session on indigenous and local knowledge in IPBES, and a number of participatory sessions aimed at facilitating exchange among the various country representatives and informing eachother about successes and challenges encountered. Indeed, in different countries the level of involvement can be high or low and take different formats (e.g. having a national IPBES focal point or not, or the person in question being sufficiently resourced in time and money to be an effective focal point, etc.) so each situation may require a uniquely fine-tuned approach to increase the country’s engagement in IPBES.
NeFo played an active role in the workshop: Kristina Raab co-facilitated the participatory sessions and presented NeFo’s activities with regard to IPBES, including the Network of National Platforms in Europe and Central Asia engaging in IPBES – ECA Network, and the Pan-European Stakeholder Consultations – PESC. Indeed, NeFo’s national and regional capacity building activities may be useful as a potential source of inspiration for creating suitable West African national and/or regional activities.
After spending three full days together and interacting about the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services, participants thus form the starting point of a growing regional network of experts that will continue to expand in the next few years through, inter alia, further workshops (e.g. 2019 in Accra, Ghana) and the SPIBES Masters students and alumni.