May 26, 2019

IPBES Global Assessment Report – Communicating Hope in a Sea of Despair

Posted by Laura Guertin

On May 6, 2019, global news outlets were filled with eye-catching headlines with phrases such as “biodiversity crisis” and “species extinction” and “bleak picture“, including NPR’s 1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says. Take a listen to their coverage of this report:


The uptick in reporting on extinction came from the release of the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which “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” (IPBES Media Release). The full six-chapter Report (including all data) is expected exceed 1,500 pages and will be published later this year, but key messages and policy options are currently available in this 39-page document: Summary for Policymakers IPBES Global Assessment

But let’s take a step back… who exactly is the IPBES?

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. — IPBES Media Release

The following video also provides an introduction. You can also view other videos about IPBES and their efforts on the YouTube IPBES Secretariat Channel.


Getting the word out

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia was quick to bring the greater community together to discuss the IPBES report. On May 14, just one week after the report’s release, the museum hosted an Academy Conversation on the Global Assessment of Biodiversity. Free and open to the public, a panel of Drexel faculty and museum scientists discussed details of the report and responded to audience questions. The panel started by saying that there is no way to understate what the report contains, that it was able to put in plain language what scientists have been saying for 30+ years.

But I was pleased to see that the panelists encouraged awareness and action. For example, the audience members were encouraged to write officials to “change the way we do things” because those changes can result in positive results – such as the Clean Water Act, once implemented, allowed fish to rebound. The IPBES report emphasizes the need to be transformative with thinking, with consumption, with how we raise kids, and how we reduce our carbon footprint. The panelists suggested that there are transformative actions we can take in Philadelphia to foster biodiversity, including:

  • Having places where people can connect with nature, which includes better funding for the parks system;
  • Having universities (there are 60 college/universities in a one hour radius around Philadelphia) and organizations work to make Philadelphia a greener city;
  • Vote for candidates that support the environment and sustainability;
  • Offer summer programming for youth that focuses on the environment and sustainability; and
  • Change the mindset of people.

The audience eagerly started voicing their concerns and suggestions, from further preventing the loss of bees in Philadelphia to being cautious in how we communicate the grim state of the world to our youth. I hope this Academy Conversation was able to not only inform the attendees but encourage them to take the next step and make choices in the their personal and professional lives to benefit biodiversity.


Going forward…

How do we move forward with the IPBES information? As stated previously, when connecting with our students or other non-scientists, we must communicate a message of hope, not despair. This message was even part of the beginning of the IPBES media release:

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said. — from IPBES media release

I know with my students, I do need to start with an overview of basic terminology. This Twitter thread from the Natural History Museum in London, which features an excellent TED-Ed video on what is biodiversity and why it is important, provides a solid introduction to the subject.

My next step is to ensure I share and engage students with articles and studies that are working to make the changes recommended in the report. I’m pleased to see that AGU EOS articles are already doing just this, with the May 20th article on Bill Would Create a Wildlife Corridors System to Protect Species. Although the IPBES report came out after my semester concluded, global biodiversity is not a subject that should disappear over the summer – I see myself bringing up this report early and often once the fall semester begins to introduce options and actions instead of doom and gloom. A message of hope will make for a much greater level of engagement and productivity among our students. Let’s keep the conversations going.