2017 News

Q and A with SCAR AnT-ERA Chief Officer Dr Julian Gutt on his role in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

1 Julian GuttJulian, you have been one of the lead-authors of the IPBES for six months, what is IPBES?

IPBES is the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an intergovernmental body of the United Nations established in 2012, its secretariat is hosted by the German government. Under IPBES 126 governments assess the state of global biodiversity and ecosystem services it provides to society. The mission is to strengthen the science-policy interface for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development (Info video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeZScdbBz-M).

For the non-specialists out there, what is meant by biodiversity and ecosystem services and why should we care?

Already in the Rio climate conference in 1992 scientists and politicians agreed on a definition. ‘Biological diversity’ means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

"Nature's Contributions to People" (NCP) include the most important ecosystem services (including goods), which are the provision of food and other biological products (e.g. medicine), sustaining a healthy environment, oxygen production, and CO2 uptake, the two latter being especially important within the climate change problem. But NCP also includes negative impacts on people such as dangerous animals, parasites and diseases.

What really is an assessment (in the sense of IPBES)?

It is a critical evaluation of knowledge, analysing, synthesizing, judging available information, including both, evidence-based "western-style" scientific information and indigenous and local knowledge. Confidence terms or (un-) certainty statements are to be assigned to key messages.

How did you get involved?

Based on my own initiative I had been nominated by SCAR through ICSU and the German government, and was pleasantly surprised to be selected by the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP).

What is the expected "product" and who will benefit from IPBES?

The assessment is to be written for decision makers. It should help them to make fact-based political decisions but will not be prescriptive. It has to become clear for them, e.g. why life in the ice-covered oceans or in the deep-sea are relevant for humans. Peer review forms a key component of the work of IPBES to ensure that a range of views is reflected in its work, and that the work is completed to the highest scientific standards.

What is your responsibility and what work needs to be done?

Together with approximately one thousand scientists from all over the world I work for IPBES on a voluntary basis. I contribute to IPBES Deliverable 2c "Global Assessment", which, as the name suggests, is a core product of IPBES. It is expected to be finalized in 2018. So far I have classified and defined the marine ecosystems to be assessed, called Units of Analysis (UoAs). Compared to the terrestrial only very few marine UoA have been decided. The reason for this limitation is that the World Ocean Assessment already provides a lot of valuable information. However, the marine UoA have many sub-units, including some with polar relevance e.g. the High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll systems, upwelling regions, ice-covered seas, shelf systems, the euphotic zone and the deep-sea, including cold coral reefs and vents and seeps.

Chapters, in which I am less involved, include socioeconomic and political processes, management and use of ecosystems, good quality of life, as well as biophysical impact.

How can you integrate the SCAR mission into the IPBES assessment?

Together with a small number of marine colleagues I must convince experts, who are not familiar with polar regions and marine ecosystems, that these on the one hand contribute considerably to the global biodiversity with approx. 25% or more of the global species richness and in terms of ecosystem services e.g. 50% of the global oxygen production. On the other hand these ecosystems are as sensitive to environmental changes as terrestrial systems.

What is the benefit for SCAR?

I think that primarily the IPBES benefits from my contributions. In turn, however, I take care that the polar ecosystems and all oceans and their relevance to people, studied also in the AnT-ERA context, are well represented in a global assessment that is still dominated by concerns about terrestrial ecosystems.

What is your personal impression, why do you invest so much energy?

Through my engagement in several SCAR initiatives over several decades I am used to working in an international framework with a diverse composition of experts. At the UN-level this applied biological work is even more diverse and challenging. The biggest challenge is to consider all these aspects, to coordinate terrestrial and marine issues and to fulfil the request to keep the scientific quality high.