Monday, January 21, 2013

IPBES-1 day one

IPBES is up and running – or the “Joy” of Rules and Procedures
Good things first. In a knowledgeable and spirited speech Achim Steiner, the UNEP executive director, opened IPBES-1. His evident joy was only topped by the interim Chair Alfred Apau Oteng Yeboah of Ghana who could not stop smiling about being called the first (interim) Chair of IPBES. Reason for his interim chairship is the fact that there are two candidates for the actual position: Zakri Abdul Hamid of Malaysia, nominated by the Asia-Pacific states and backed by the G77 and China. And Robert T. Watson of the UK, known for his long standing commitment within the IPCC which he chaired between 1997 and 2002. Watson was nominated by Western Europe and other States. As this is being written the candidates and the so far elected bureau members sit together to sort out the position of chair/co-chair. Let’s see whether they come to an agreement by the second session this afternoon. Up for election are also the 25 members of the MEP (Multidisciplinary Expert Panel). Each of the five UN regions is eligible to sent 5 experts to this panel that will be responsible for the scientific process of IPBES. An interesting curiosity in this election process is the fact that the Eastern European States so far have only nominated three persons for the 5 positions – all of whom come from Hungary. You start wondering where the wealth of qualified scientists or more generally “knowledge-holders” are from Eastern-Europe. So if anyone of our members is interested – maybe you should contact your country representative and put your hat in the ring.

Besides election matters members and observers had the chance to give general comments to the plenary today. As reported yesterday, the collected stakeholders agreed on an initial statement that was given to the plenary today and will be downloadable from the IPBES webpage. The stakeholder process that led to this statement was well organised by IUCN and ICSU – but starting the next days we will certainly discuss how we will organise ourselves in the future and who will have a mandate to represent the stakeholders in the future or if that is at all feasible.

Of course the statements of the member states also gave a first hint where IPBES is headed. While the members one after another announced that they highly value stakeholder involvement – you start wondering why on the issue of accepting stakeholders so many thought that a consensus procedure would be a good rule in this context. In essence that means that every member state can veto any particular stakeholder as an observer. Needless to say, that this would be a severe blow in the face of an open and transparent stakeholder process and thus for the acceptance of IPBES.

It seems generally very debatable whether consensus rule in a body that will oversee the production of scientific reports on the biodiversity crisis is a good idea but I guess it was not all that surprising that almost all members that spoke out on the topic today were strongly favouring consensus as the rule of vote to apply for IPBES. The power and irony of this set in when Bolivia also spoke out in strong support of a consensus rule right before they started reading their list of why, how and when they will oppose the current approach to IPBES. It for sure will make for some good drama in the coming days. Disregarding whether one agrees with Bolivia’s position on the IPBES or not – their statement sure has the potential to make some of the other member states second guess their position towards consensus rule.

—Lars Opgenoorth

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