Land use could bring solutions to both mitigating climate change and stopping biodiversity loss

At the seventh session of the Intergovernmental Platform of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) plenary in Paris in May 2019, delegates of the member states approved the Global Assessment report and its summary for policymakers. Here the authors provide a very brief overview of the results, explain the unique facets of IPBES, and elaborate how the GLP community could contribute to that process in the future. Photo: The team of lead authors and experts of the Global Assessments report at the plenary meeting in Paris. Photo by IISD/Diego Noguera

The Global Assessment

During almost three years, 145 authors from 51 countries chaired by Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondízio and Josef Settele and seamlessly supported by IPBES’ technical support unit lead by Hien Ngo, conducted a synthesis comprehensively summarizing the scientific evidence of more than 15,000 publications and reports and other knowledge systems on the current state of our planet and possible future trajectories of humanity (Fig 1). This resulted in a more than 1,600-page full report and a 60-page Summary for Policy Makers  with 29 key messages and 40 background statements supporting the key messages. After completing two thematic assessment reports, one methodological assessment report and four regional assessments, this was the final and largest deliverable of the first work programme of IPBES between 2014-2018. Thus, in Paris, in parallel to the negotiation on the global assessment summary for policymakers, was the negotiation of the new IPBES rolling work programme up to 2030, which was approved. It is worth taking a brief look back on both parts of that meeting and start with the Global Assessment, which got a tremendous media response in almost all leading newspapers, magazines, television and radio programs in 165 countries, in 49 languages, and in more than 38,000 online articles (see IPBES Impact tracking). 

Figure 1. Examples of global declines in nature, emphasizing declines in biodiversity, that have been and are being caused by direct and indirect drivers of change. The direct drivers (land-/sea-use change; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species) result from an array of underlying societal causes. These causes can be demographic (e.g., human population dynamics), sociocultural (e.g., consumption patterns), economic (e.g., trade), technological, or relating to institutions, governance, conflicts and epidemics. They are called indirect drivers and are underpinned by societal values and behaviours. The color bands represent the relative global impact of direct drivers, from top to bottom, on terrestrial, freshwater and marine nature, as estimated from a global systematic review of studies published since 2005. Land- and sea-use change and direct exploitation account for more than 50 per cent of the global impact on land, in fresh water and in the sea, but each driver is dominant in certain contexts. The circles illustrate the magnitude of the negative human impacts on a diverse selection of aspects of nature over a range of different time scales based on a global synthesis of indicators. [reproduced from Summary for Policymakers, page 25, Figure SPM 2]

The results in brief

The report concluded that the fabric of Earth is getting more and more fragile and volatile. Besides heating the atmosphere, humanity is clearly on a trajectory of destroying our life support system and putting species and related ecosystem functions at risk at an unprecedented rate. The Global Assessment clearly shows that land and sea use change (including land use intensification) is the direct driver with the largest relative negative impact on the biodiversity of our planet. Addressing land/sea use change (in addition to other main direct drivers such as direct exploitation of resources, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species - see Figure 1) is not only key for developing solutions, but also provides a link to recent findings reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), especially the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. Land is needed not only for the production of agricultural commodities, goods and services to provide healthy and stable diets for humanity, it is also a key component in the overly optimistic climate mitigation scenarios, which substantially rely on bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Currently, collaboration between IPCC and IPBES is in progress to address these interlinked challenges. Both the climate change and biodiversity research communities (as demonstrated through their respective IPCC and IPBES assessments) agree that there are common solutions to both climate change and biodiversity issues, but these solutions involve making hard choices as trade-offs are unavoidable with respect to demands in land use.

However, although IPBES is frequently coined as “IPCC for Biodiversity” there are major differences. Compared to the initial reports from IPCC, IPBES was able to make uncontested clear evidence-based statements about not only the urgency of the current state of our environment and its biodiversity, but also on the underlying causes. Secondly, actions to stop biodiversity loss to maintain our life support system need to be taken urgently, which leaves no time for long negotiation processes as compared to UNFCCC, for instance, on discussing the most effective indicators for measuring success. Third, the IPBES Global Assessment report reserved two chapters deliberately to study how these trajectories of sustainable development could be achieved. Focusing on indirect drivers such as the economic, socio-cultural, demographic, political, institutional, and technological aspects and their interconnections, key levers and leverage points were also identified that address specific environmental/biodiversity nexuses, cf. Figure 2. We remain hopeful the international biodiversity community also sees this as we have all eyes on the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, China later this year (October 2020).  

Figure 2. Transformative change in global sustainability pathways. Collaborative implementation of priority governance interventions (levers) targeting key points of intervention (leverage points) could enable transformative change from current trends towards more sustainable ones. Most levers can be applied at multiple leverage points by a range of actors, such as intergovernmental organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations, citizen and community groups, indigenous peoples and local communities, donor agencies, science and educational organizations, and the private sector, depending on the context. Implementing existing and new instruments through place-based governance interventions that are integrative, informed, inclusive and adaptive, using strategic policy mixes and learning from feedback, could enable global transformation. [reproduced from Summary for Policymakers, page 40, Figure SPM 9]

What are our next steps?

IPBES’ research questions (see Table) can encourage community-based, collaborative joint efforts which directly address the GLP. From the comprehensive list of identified research gaps (c.f. Appendix IV of the SPM), there are various research topics which would be valuable input into IPBES’ work. There is, for instance, the need for “Integrated scenarios and modelling studies,” which could systematically investigate how transformative change affects indirect drivers. For example, the power to demonstrate the positive effects of eradicating harmful subsidies, which leads to global species loss (including the associated costs of these losses), could help policymakers decide on appropriate measures to apply and to combine. A full picture of options and opportunities is needed. With the Paris Agreement – requesting governments decide on their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) without such a full picture (line of evidence) may lead to arbitrary INDCs. But a systemic and comprehensive model-based testing of alternative pathways including costs and benefits will provide effective input to the upcoming decision-making process. All these research goals and others could be supported or even kick started by the GLP community. 

IPBES’ next rolling work program up to 2030 includes another slate of assessments which could benefit from contributions by the GLP community, see table. Topic 1 includes a thematic assessment on interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health (nexus assessment) and a technical paper on assessing the interlinkages between biodiversity and climate change. Topic 2 includes a thematic assessment on the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and the determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity (transformative change assessment). Finally, Topic 3 includes a methodological assessment on the impact and dependence of business on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. All the assessments define highly challenging, interesting and exciting synthesis work involving interdisciplinary teams. Members of the GLP community are well positioned and capable of contributing to these assessments and are encourage to sign up to be nominated by their national focal points or organizations when the call for experts is launched starting with nexus and transformative assessment February 2021.

IPBES topics of the rolling work programme up to 2030

Assessments planned

Topic I “Understanding the importance of biodiversity in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

  • Deliverable 1 (a): Assessing interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health (thematic assessment)

  • Deliverable 1 (b): Assessing the interlinkages between biodiversity and climate change (technical paper)

Topic 2 “Understanding the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050”

  • Deliverable 1 (c): Assessing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and the determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity (thematic assessment)

Topic 3 “Measuring business impact and dependence on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people”

  • Deliverable 1 (d): Assessing the impact and dependence of business on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people (fast-track methodological assessment)