In this Q&A, Patty Balvanera, IPBES Global Assessment author and People and Nature Associate Editor talks to us about her experience of working with IPBES, the need for major policy changes and what we can all do as individuals to make a difference.
Tell us a little about your experience of working on the IPBES Global Assessment?
Working with IPBES is an extremely rewarding experience. By design, the configuration of expert teams are very diverse, with people from the 5 IPBES regions: 1- US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, 2- Latin America and the Caribbean, 3- Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 4- Africa, and 5- Asia-Pacific. I enjoy so much establishing friendship bonds and learning from the culture and day to day life in such a diversity of contexts. I also have learned so much from all my colleagues from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives.
As a coordinating lead author of the chapter on drivers of changes in nature, there were some important challenges, from which I learned so much. The most important one was producing a coherent overview of the major issues: identifying all the issues at stake, making sure to provide a balanced perspective and providing key insights. The hardest one was the work around the IPBES plenary. The plenary is the ultimate decision making body in IPBES where the delegates of the 132 countries sit to approve word by word the Summary for Policy Makers we produced. The sheer amount of work needed to address the comments from governments that unravel as the discussion advances (for instance we received 2,000 comments 3 weeks prior to the plenary) is shocking. Negotiations go on into late at night, 12 PM, 1 AM, even 3:30 AM one evening, so it is an endurance test. Patience and concentration are needed to be fully present during the very long hours of negotiation. And yet, it was an extremely rewarding experience. The general atmosphere was very friendly and a sense of urgency and need for approving a strong report that would make a difference was shared.
What are the major policy changes you would like to see governments implement based on the report?
The report indicates that we need a profound transformation in all the dimensions of society.
1- The deepest change needed is at the core level of values. We are not aware any more of all the zillion dimensions in which biodiversity is relevant to our lives: we eat biodiversity (fish, meat, vegetables, nuts, pulses, fruits), we heal ourselves with biodiversity (either directly, or as a precursor for commercial medicines); biodiversity plays a key role in regulating the quality of freshwater, our climate, the productive potential of soils, the agricultural pests, the disease vectors, the pollinators; biodiversity contributes to our mental health, our identities and our social interactions.
2- We need to shift the strategy of individual households, governments at all levels (from local to federal), and businesses (from small to transnationals). Today there is a strong focus on consumption, growth, highest yields, largest short term gains. Towards the future we need to shift gear towards security – food, water, energy and health security for all, especially including those who do not have enough today. This means being proactive (rather than reactive) and prepared for surprises (such as those emerging from floods, droughts, or the collapse of critical resources such as fisheries). It also means having a system-wide perspective, that is mindful of the impacts of decisions on other people and other living beings. As an example, this means transforming current economic incentives. Today economic incentives favour the use of our living and non-living resources on the planet in wasteful, highly impactful, and unsustainable ways, as can be found in the context of industrial fisheries, intensive agriculture and mining. A deep transformation would favour sustainable agriculture, sustainable fisheries and sustainable forestry, that would mainstream biodiversity into production and reduce environmental impacts.
From your work on the report are there any particular areas where you would like to see more research?
Our results highlight how the world today is more interconnected and yet ever more unequal. While the most affluent consume more each day, and many developing countries are increasingly basing their economies in the production of commodities to be exported to meet such demand, the poorest bear the largest burdens of environmental degradation. This means that research on people and nature is needed in a wide range of conditions, from the most affluent to the most vulnerable, with particular emphasis on the teleconnection among these regions. Thematically we need to understand much more about how impacts and burdens are differentiated, and yet interconnected. We also need more on how these impacts scale up and across regions, and how solutions and successful interventions towards sustainability depend on these interactions across regions and across actors.
The report has garnered amazing global media attention, which must be pleasing. For people concerned about what they have seen on the news about climate change and biodiversity loss, what advice would you give on practical ways they can help as an individual?
We can all help. We can all reduce waste and those of us who have enough can reduce consumption. We can be more mindful of what choices we make in terms of food or energy sources, or any product we consume, in terms of the environmental impacts of our choices. We can spread the word of the crisis and of the power each of us has to make the changes needed. We can join arms to convey strong requests to our governments, to businesses and to those around us.