A group of leading biodiversity scientists and policy experts have called for the creation of an international panel on biodiversity to help bridge the gap between science and policy in the field and coordinate a global response to potentially catastrophic biodiversity loss.
In a statement published this week in the journal Nature, the 19 experts from 13 countries state that, 'there is clear scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major biodiversity crisis.' They note that 12 per cent of all bird species, 23 per cent of mammals, 25 per cent of conifers and 32 per cent of amphibians are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, climate change along could commit a further 15 to 27 per cent of species to extinction within the next 50 years.
In addition to climate change, causes of habitat loss include habitat destruction (especially in tropical forests, inland waters and coastlines), the introduction of invasive species, the overexploitation of biological resources (such as overfishing) and pollution.
Yet even as biodiversity is being lost, evidence is accumulating of the benefits of biodiversity to human well-being and sustainable development. 'Biodiversity provides ecosystem services such as disease and climate regulation, storm protection and habitat for useful species,' explained Charles Perrings of Arizona State University, one of the signatories of the statement. 'The loss of biodiversity imposes real economic costs on society, and we need to develop clear science guidance for policy options accordingly.'
However, a lack of awareness of these benefits means they are regularly ignored. 'Biodiversity is still consistently undervalued and given inadequate weight in both private and public decisions,' say the experts. 'There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between science and policy by creating an international body of biodiversity experts.'
Existing international agreements on biodiversity, like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), do not have the structural means to mobilise the expertise of the large numbers of scientists working on biodiversity. According to the signatories, this leaves the scientific community feeling cut off from the political process.
What the experts want is a mechanism similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 'For the sake of the planet, the biodiversity science community has to create a way to get organised, to coordinate its work across disciplines, and together with one clear voice advise governments on steps to halt the potentially catastrophic loss of species already occurring,' said signatory Robert Watson, Chief Scientist at the World Bank Environment Department.
While the concept of an international panel on biodiversity is not new, until now it lacked strong backing. That changed in January 2005, when French President Jacques Chirac declared his support for the idea at a biodiversity conference in Paris.
In their statement, the experts outline five features they would like to see in the panel. Like the IPCC, it should be linked to, and funded by, governments, to help ensure that the information will lead to action nationally and globally. Other stakeholders, including NGOs, should also be involved. In addition, it must be objective and independent, attracting leading biodiversity scientists as well as governments and NGOs. It should also be transparent and representative, in terms of disciplines, opinions and geographical regions. Furthermore, its goal should be to generate clear, readily accessible information on the status and trends of biodiversity and projections of future changes and their impact on ecosystem services. They should also set out options to conserve biodiversity and reduce the impact of changes in biodiversity, to help decision makers set clear targets for action. Finally, the panel should build synergy with existing international organisations.
Currently the French government is funding a consultation process to assess the need, cope and possible models for an International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity (IMoSEB). This is expected to last 18 months. Regional meetings will enable all sectors of science and society around the world to provide input into the process.
'We call upon all scientists interested in biodiversity science to get involved, and seek the participation of their government, in these consultations,' the statement concludes.
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