First IPBES Global Assessment Reports Biodiversity Decline at Record-Breaking Rates
Global News
article written by MRI
29.05.19 | 01:05

In May, IPBES published its first Global Assessment. This marked the most comprehensive intergovernmental assessment of its kind. The results were alarming, with over a million species threatened with extinction, many within decades. We spoke to two mountain experts – Andreas Heinimann, an MRI Co-PI and one of the lead-authors of the Global Assessment, and Eva Spehn from IPBES Switzerland and the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment – about the importance of the results and the key message in the context of mountains.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with input from another 310 contributing authors, the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades. 

“The IPBES report, which reached consensus across all 132 member states, presents a strong  message – we are way off track to save biodiversity, and this directly affects us humans! The report shows how the growing exploitation of the planet caused by our food system and climate change is  compromising our ability to conserve nature and sustain our well-being, health, and our economies. Three  quarters of the global land surface and two thirds of the ocean surface are no longer in a natural state,” says Eva Spehn, a plant ecologist and member of the Swiss delegation in Paris at the launch of the  Summary for Policymakers in May.


Importance of indirect drivers

“What is new about the IPBES global report is that it looks at biodiversity and ecosystem services and how they affect our well-being from all possible angles. It analyses indirect drivers of change hardly ever addressed before, such as social inequality. For example, it shows that individuals in the developed world have four times the ecological footprint of those in the poorest countries, and the gap is growing,” continues Spehn.

Andreas Heinimann (Centre for Development and Environment CDE, University of Bern, and MRI Co-PI), who contributed to the assessment as a lead-author, also highlights the inequalities in the global picture. “In addition to territorial measures of governance, such as for example protected areas, more emphasis should be given to measuring the governing flows, such as trade or certain ecosystem services, in a globalized world,” says Heinimann. “For example, more than 70 percent of the land Switzerland needs for its consumption lies outside its borders. We urgently need to look at where and how our footprint impacts people and nature outside Switzerland, and take measures to curb the negative impacts. Territorial approaches alone no longer offer real solutions in our globalized world, also because many of nature’s contributions to people are not conveyable over large distances.”

Despite the alarming key message of the report, both Spehn and Heinimann want to draw attention to the solutions the report explores, such as ‘transformative change’ across all areas of government, revised trade rules, investments in forests and other green infrastructure, and changes in individual behaviour, such as lower consumption of meat and material goods.

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“The report not only describes a scary picture, it also points to what could be done to address and reverse the current trends. It describes how the necessary transformative pathways could be initiated, supported, and enforced. We need to move from mainly addressing the direct drivers, such as exploitation, to addressing the underlying drivers of the decrease in nature and ecosystem services, which calls for structural changes. The opposition of actors who have a vested interest in the status quo has to be overcome by greater interests in the public good,” adds Heinimann.

Mountain regions are hotspots for biodiversity and local knowledge

Although the Summary for Policymakers does not differentiate between ecosystems other than land and marine, it is safe to say that the issue of degrading biodiversity is also serious in mountain environments. “Mountains are home to a disproportionately high proportion of the world’s species, and home to many local and indigenous communities, which have shaped the ecologies and resource economies of many mountains of the world – from managing forests, soil fertility, grasslands, and watersheds, to cultivating and nurturing domesticated and wild species and managing vast social-ecological production landscapes for humans and non-humans,” says Spehn, citing the report itself.

Heinimann, too, points out the land management and local knowledge in mountain areas: “The report highlights the importance of areas managed by indigenous people, which are specifically relevant in mountain regions. While one quarter of the global land area is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by indigenous people, these areas include approximately 35 per cent of the global area that is formally protected. But these areas are under increasing pressure from growing resource extraction, commodity production, mining, and infrastructure, with various consequences for local livelihoods and nature. Hence, it is crucial that recognition of the knowledge, innovation and practices, and institutions and values of indigenous people and local communities is enhanced, and that they are included and can participate in environmental governance”.

Coming opportunities to support IPBES work in the mountain context

There are currently many ways in which the MRI community can support and follow up on many of the topics and initiatives raised in the IPBES assessment report that are relevant for mountains. One such event is the upcoming World Biodiversity Forum, which will be held in Davos, Switzerland, 23-28 February 2020, and which will serve as an important plat­form for ex­change, cov­er­ing a wide range of per­spec­tives, and cap­tur­ing a di­ver­si­ty of vi­sions, to redefine and set an agen­da for bio­di­ver­si­ty as a fo­cal point over the next 10 years, in support of the ‘New Deal for Na­ture’ to be forged by the Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­si­ty at the end of 2020. The MRI will be planning workshops and sessions as part of the WBF. More news on how to participate will be announced in the coming months. Learn more about the World Biodiversity Forum here.

IPBES has also launched a call for nominations of experts to IPBES task forces and for in-kind support for technical support units. Learn more about this call here.

Often described as the ‘IPCC for biodiversity,’ IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body comprising more than 130 member Governments. Established by Governments in 2012, it provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems, and the contributions they make to people, as well as the tools and methods to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets. For more information about IPBES and its assessments visit