A prominent Malaysian biologist on Saturday was named first chief of a UN scientific panel which 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, or IPBES, chose Zakri Abdul Hamid as chairman, a spokeswoman for IPBES told AFP.
Zakri, 64, will serve for three years under the decision, reached in tough overnight discussions in the former West German capital of Bonn, a European delegate added.
The idea of IPBES was floated in January 2005 by the then French president, Jacques Chirac, but took five years to be approved, and two more years to reach organisational status.
It has 102 nations as members, according to its website.
Its goal is to emulate the success of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 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 (IUCN), 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.
The six-day meeting of IPBES focused on nuts-and-bolts organisational matters, such as the election of officers and the establishment of a work programme.
It ran a day into overtime in order to settle the chairmanship issue.
Educated in Malaysia and the United States, where he specialised in plant genetics, Zakri has long experience of negotiations in international biodiversity governance.
He has served with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
He is currently science advisor to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and chairman of the National
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 organisations — the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which are the offshoots of the 1992 Earth Summit.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]