Suggesting new areas of work for IPBES

By Elisa Morgera & Lynne Shannon

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has called for inputs and suggestions on its work programme up to 2023 from international and regional scientific organisations, non-governmental organisations, indigenous peoples and local communities and the private sector, which will be considered at the tenth session of the IPBES Plenary (28 August-2 September 2023, Bonn, Germany). This blog post explains two suggestions proposed by the One Ocean Hub to IPBES: a global assessment of ecosystem services-dependent human rights; and a global assessment of the implications of ocean data and research gaps.

An assessment of human rights dependent on ecosystem services  

The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services that the IPBES released in 2019 underscored that ‘most of nature’s contributions to people are not fully replaceable and some are irreplaceable,’ and that the rate of global biodiversity degradation during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history. For instance, the average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20 %, potentially affecting ecosystem processes and nature’s contributions to human wellbeing. In addition, 66 % of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts (with over-fishing being a main contributor and marine plastic pollution having increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species) (Diaz et al., 2019).

In fact, the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report points to a negative long-term trend for the biodiversity-related SDGs 14 (‘life below water’) and 15 (‘life on land’). The Assessment then unveiled that current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are undermining progress towards 80 % (35 out of 44) of targets assessed within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). The Global Assessment report also noted that biodiversity is generally declining less rapidly in indigenous peoples’ lands than elsewhere, which cover at least a quarter of the global land area, including approximately 35 % of formally protected and approximately 35 % of all remaining terrestrial areas with very low human intervention. At the same time, areas of the world projected to experience significant negative effects from global changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to human wellbeing are also home to large concentrations of indigenous peoples and many of the world’s poorest communities.  

These findings have all relevance from an international human rights law perspective, as biodiversity and healthy ecosystems support the full enjoyment of all human rights (as underscored in 2017 by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment) and because human rights underpin all the SDGs. We thus suggested a new global assessment on “biodiversity- and ecosystem services-dependent human rights”. We have argued that there is a need to connect IPBES findings to the scientific literature on human rights and the environment, which is still lagging behind in as far as human rights and biodiversity are concerned. It is crucial to fully assess to what extent the latest natural and social sciences findings on the dependence of various dimensions of human well-being enable identification and prevention of “foreseeable negative impacts” on human rights.

Such an assessment will also unveil gaps in IPBES assessments and more generally in biodiversity-related research in natural and social sciences with regard to specific human rights-holders; disaggregated data is needed on the dependence on ecosystem services of children, rural women, persons with disabilities, small-scale fishers, Indigenous peoples, and older persons. Human rights can also support the transformative change called for IPBES in its 2019 Global Assessment as inequalities, especially regarding income and gender, which undermine the capacity for sustainability, and inclusive decision-making as well as the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biodiversity and its conservation. These, together with the recognition and respectful inclusion of the knowledge and innovations of indigenous peoples and local communities in environmental governance (Diaz et al., 2019) are also human rights issues. 

Such an assessment could benefit most UN human rights bodies who are now addressing the environment to some extent, but tend to focus on climate change. It is essential to provide clearer understanding of the implications for their work on biodiversity for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights working on new international guidance on sustainable development, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has already included biodiversity and the ocean in its draft comment on children’s rights and the environment. Several UN Special Rapporteurs on Climate Change, Environment, Toxics, Food, and Culture have already addressed biodiversity, and their findings could be integrated in the proposed assessment. 

Human rights issues are implicit in the IPBES “assessment of the diverse values and valuation of nature” (e.g. Hakkarainen et al. 2020) and are central to both the Nexus (interlinking of biodiversity, water, food and health) and the Transformative Change Assessments currently underway. 

A global assessment of the implications of ocean data and research gaps 

The 2022 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework proposes 4 outcome-oriented goals to achieve the 2050 Vision of the Convention on Biological Diversity, identifying 23 “action-oriented global targets” that require urgent uptake by 2030 in order to achieve these 2050 goals. Achieving these goals and targets in the context of the ocean presents a major challenge in the light of knowledge limitations. Although a comprehensive review of trends and current status with respect to multiple pressures (including climate change) on ocean ecosystems was undertaken through two cycles of the World Ocean Assessment, there is still a relative lack of knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity and its ecosystem services in comparison to research in the terrestrial biome. Marine biodiversity was included in the IPBES Global Assessment (2019) and is being included more specifically under both the current IPBES Food-Water-Health Nexus Assessment, and the Transformative Change Assessment.  

Nevertheless, IPBES could make a more distinctive and much-needed contribution to the ocean biome by unpacking high-level (global), as well as more regionally-specific targets (actions) vis-à-vis the current state of knowledge of the ocean, including Indigenous and local knowledge, and systematically reflecting on the implications of current gaps in knowledge and data (also in the light of the impacts on marine biodiversity of the other two planetary crises – climate change and toxic pollution)_for the realisation of the four goals and 23 targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework related to the marine realm.  

 More generally, such a global assessment could serve to advance national, regional and global debates that lack thresholds for “sustainable use” of marine biodiversity and/or address matters related to the precautionary principle/approach in that connection. Such as assessment could thus benefit the implementation of the future agreement on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), future ocean-based climate action under the Paris Agreement; and regional seas agreements, in addition to other biodiversity-related conventions.  

Artwork: Margherita Brunori