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Thursday, 24 January 2013

IPBES Day 3: “To speak or not to speak?” That is the question

By SCB-ES Board member: Guy Pe’er

(disclaimer: The following text represents personal accounts of ipbes and do not attempt to represent the view of SCB-ES as a whole)

It’s a Wednesday, people around me look and feel like Thursday, and when the alarm-clock rang this morning I would have happily dreamed it was a Sunday.

But there’s a lot of work to do, there is the great urge among us all to get it done, and we have quite a lot ahead of us. In fact, according to the Chair’s estimation at the closure of today’s Plenary, we accomplished only a quarter of the tasks.

A lot was already achieved: for instance the establishment of a Bureau and voting for its members; a broad consensus on a need to keep the Bureau and the Expert Panel (MEP) independent (that is, to keep politics away from science and ensure the best quality of the Panel); a surprisingly short discussion about the relation between the IPBES and the UN; an even broader agreement that the MEP should get going asap; but then also a very meticulous, tiresome discussion on the actual structuring of MEP.

The latter discussion required several hours of high concentration and attention: we were searching for the best moment to intervene in the discussion and add our humble but important comment that perhaps some selected members of the public should be able to participate as observers in the meetings of the MEP. Why do we care? Because this may be an important way to ensure transparency and full participation of various stakeholders. For the same reason we also have reservations on the election process of the MEP, which is built on negotiations between governments but without a systematic process of ensuring balance of expertise.

Anyway, this morning several stakeholder representatives met to discuss how we can best intervene with that discussion of “Rule 28” about the MEP structure, and what text exactly we wish to suggest for rectifying this problem. Now comes the moment to speak: no, not now, in a few minutes. No, later. Or maybe now? No, later. But wait: somebody mentions the public. Hmm, and then someone else immediately says no. – etc…

“To speak or not to speak”, that is the question. If we speak against the general opinion and get no support or our opinion from any delegation, we may create antagonism, miss our (narrow) chance of speaking, or even harm our credibility or reputation. And if too many of the stakeholders raise a hand they could even be excluded later on from discussions. The consequence of cautiousness: silence on our behalf. While waiting, we slowly realize that perhaps the text we wish to propose maybe doesn’t actual fit where we wish to have it. “Hmm, perhaps true”, we whisper.

Another hour passes, and here comes “the moment” (?): the Chair finally concludes the discussion on the words “members” or “observers”, and the discussion on Rule 28 is about to be concluded. “If there are no more questions”, Chair says, “we proceed to Rule 32”. IUCN member next to me lifts his arm to bring up the point that was meticulously phrased by our group this morning (namely, that a section in Rule 28 might be completely missing). But Chair has his eyes and hands on the sheet of paper and he shifts to the next page and next topic. Time’s up, sorry.

Good news is: t’s not at all too late: Such 5-second windows of opportunities are not a singularity in space; The procedures decided now could also change in the future; And finally, and much more importantly, there was very broad support of our message on Monday, stating that participation of the various stakeholders is essential to the success of IPBES and calling for the development of a “Stakeholder Engagement Strategy”.

You may imagine that we already spent some hours on a first version of such a strategy, or at least a proposal for developing it. It will probably receive some tens of edits by Saturday when a member of the “we” reads it at the Plenary.

And you might also be able to imagine that, at the end of such a day, everyone walks somewhat shakily. I guess I am not the only one who hopes that perhaps after all it was Thursday, but happy it was only Wednesday. So much is still ahead.

Updates: with photos and more on SCB News Blog!

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