UN panel takes aim at species loss

Updated: 2013-01-30 07:43

By Agence France-Presse in Paris (China Daily)

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A prominent Malaysian biologist on Saturday was named first chief of a UN scientific panel that aims to turn the world's spotlight on species loss, as a Nobel-winning counterpart has done for climate change.

In their first plenary meeting, members of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services chose Zakri Abdul Hamid as chairman.

Zakri, 64, will serve for three years.

The idea of IPBES was floated in January 2005 by Jacques Chirac, who was then the French president, but it took five years to be approved, and two more years to reach organizational status.

It has 102 nations as members, according to its website.

UN panel takes aim at species loss

Its goal is to emulate the success of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which thousands of scientists draw up an assessment of global warming to help policymakers.

IPBES will also quantify damage inflicted on life-sustaining ecosystems long taken for granted, from depleted water tables to deracinated mangroves to rivers and air poisoned by pesticides and pollution.

Some biologists say that Earth is in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction, a man-made phenomenon driven by habitat loss, hunting, introduced species and climate damage.

The current pace of species die-off is 100 to 1,000 times higher than average.

According to a June 2012 update of the "Red List" compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, out of 63,837 species that have been assessed, 19,817 are threatened with extinction.

They include 41 percent of amphibians, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, 13 percent of birds and 30 percent of conifers.

Educated in Malaysia and the United States, where he specialized in plant genetics, Zakri has long experience of negotiations in international biodiversity governance.

He has served with the UN Environment Programme and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

He is currently science advisor to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and chairman of the National Professors Council.

Under the deal for his new appointment, the European vice-chairman of IPBES - currently Robert Watson, a respected British scientist and former head of the IPCC - will take over after three years.

The panel is headquartered in Bonn, close to two other big UN environment organizations - the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification, which are both offshoots of the 1992 Earth Summit.

(China Daily 01/30/2013 page19)