Anne Larigauderie on the state of life on Earth

A new U.N. panel is designed to report back to the world on the state of the richness and variety of life on Earth.

Today – a new U.N. panel designed to report back to the world on the state of the richness and variety of life on Earth. We spoke with one of the scientists creating the panel – plant ecologist Anne Larigauderie.

Anne Larigauderie: The hope is that.. we can have an impact on the issue at stake, which is the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species, the damaging of ecosystems, and also the loss of the services that we derive from this biodiversity.

The panel is called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES. Dr. Larigauderie explained how it will work.

Anne Larigauderie: All the governments are going to gather, and they are going to list a number of questions that they have on biodiversity and ecosystem services and ask scientists around the world to produce scientific reports.

The work will be peer reviewed by other scientists. The goal is to produce reports for policy-makers and the public.

Anne Larigauderie: They could be on urgent issues or emerging issues, such as for example a disease like bird flu or an invasive species or an issue like this.

She said the U.N. General Assembly will decide whether or not to approve the IPBES by the end of 2010. We asked her about the goal of the project.

Anne Larigauderie: The ultimate goal of all of this, of course, is to slow down the problem of the loss of the variety of our living world. And damage made to the services that humans derive from this diversity. Dr. Larigauderie spoke more about how the IPBES would work.

Anne Larigauderie: The model behind this new mechanism called IBES is another, better known mechanism, called the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPBES is what we call an intergovernmental mechanism, that means it’s a mechanism which is made of governments. Governments are the members. And so the way it would work is that it would be that in 2011, that will be the first plenary of IPBES. And that is going to be done on a regular basis. So there will be large reports, just like IPCC produces, on the state of biodiversity, making predictions about biodiversity, and there may also be some focused mandates to the scientific community on narrower topics.

The data for the reports, said Larigauderie, would come from peer-reviewed science research.

Anne Larigauderie: IPBES is called an assessment. It uses only data that have been published. It’s not in the business of collecting its own data. IPBES will tap into papers that have been published in the literature, basically, and create in some cases metadata and analyze to produce a synthesis that give us an overall vision of biodiversity and ecosystem services. And so on a regular basis, we would have a snapshot of how biodiversity and ecosystem services are doing in the world. IPBES would also be using models that were also produced by scientists, that would also be published, that can make predictions about future changes in biodiversity and also in ecosystem services, something that has been very useful for the climate community to become able to make predictions about future climate. That’s what IPBES also wants to do – to think about different policy scenarios and make predictions using different policy scenarios. ‘What if?’ type of activities, what if society becomes greener?, how is this affecting biodiversity?, what if climate change is slowed down?, and all of that. The idea there is really to become better able to inform policy makers with the latest scientific findings.

Jorge Salazar