February 17, 2011 / 7:31 PM / 7 years ago

U.N. biodiversity panel could guide on trade, farms

OSLO (Reuters) - A U.N. scientific panel meant to help safeguard animal and plant species should help guide governments with practical studies of issues such as trade, farming or energy, experts said on Thursday.

They said the panel, whose role has not yet been clearly defined, should also do more to value nature. Past studies have estimated, for instance, that the world’s coral reefs provide annual services worth $172 billion, from fisheries to tourism.

“Knowing likely consequences of alternative policy options is critical to the choice of the best strategy,” four leading experts wrote in the journal Science, urging the panel to help predict the impact of government choices on nature.

Environment ministers from around the world will meet in Nairobi next week to discuss how to set up the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), inspired by a U.N. panel on climate change.

The panel of climate experts focuses largely on impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, often over a century and on a global scale. The authors urged a more practical, shorter-term focus for the IPBES, often looking at regional effects.

“The IPBES should be given rather more specific policies and programs,” lead author Charles Perrings of Arizona State University told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Governments agreed last year to set up IPBES after warnings that the world is facing the fastest pace of extinctions since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, hit by factors such as expanding cities, farms, pollution and climate change.

Perrings said studies might be, for instance, of the impacts of stricter world trade rules to try to slow a spread of insect pests, or of the effects on nature of setting aside more cropland to produce biofuels.


In recent years, efforts to promote biofuels had often fallen short of hopes for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and contributed to driving up world food prices. Biofuels could also add pressures for deforestation.

“Policies...to stimulate biofuels production in the United States moved too fast,” Harold Mooney, of Stanford University and one of the authors, told Reuters. A scientific assessment in advance might have rung alarm bells.

Perrings said that scientists still knew little about the value of natural services despite a U.N. backed study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

“It will be a critical part of IPBES,” he said of efforts to value nature. One study, for instance, showed that planting mangroves along a coastline in Vietnam cost $1.1 million but saved $7.3 million a year in maintaining dykes.

Governments agreed at a meeting in Japan last year to stem the loss of animal and plant species with a sweeping plan of targets for 2020.

For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

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