Platform Will Integrate Data on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Brazil

ecosystem
The mission of the BPBES is to mainstream the role of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the national development model in order to accelerate the transition to sustainability (photo: Ibitipoca State Park in Minas Gerais / Wikimedia Commons)

A group of more than 50 Brazilian researchers affiliated with the nation’s leading universities and research institutions will assemble and summarize the data available in Brazil on biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as pollination and water source protection, in order to produce Brazil’s first diagnosis on this subject.

The researchers have established the Brazilian Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (BPBES), which was officially launched on February 21, 2017, at an event held at FAPESP in São Paulo.

BPBES is a working group set up by the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC). Its mission will be to synthesize the best knowledge produced by academic science and traditional communities on biodiversity, ecosystem services and their relationships with human wellbeing as a basis for helping decision makers to design and implement conservation and sustainable development policies.

BPBES is supported by FAPESP’s Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP), the National Scientific & Technological Development Council (CNPq) and the Brazilian Sustainable Development Foundation (FBDS).

“Unfortunately, the data on biodiversity and ecosystem services in Brazil are limited not only to the university or institution to which the researcher that collected it is affiliated, but also to the organizations responsible for storing it, such as the Environment Ministry and the Science, Technology, innovation & Communications Ministry and the institutions subordinated to them,” said Carlos Joly, a professor at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and one of the coordinators of BPBES, in an interview with Agência FAPESP.

“We want to integrate all these data in order to bridge the gap between high-quality scientific information and decision makers, as BIOTA-FAPESP has succeeded in doing in São Paulo State,” said Joly, who is also on the steering committee of BIOTA-FAPESP, launched in 1999.

The program’s founders initially planned to publish the information collected during research projects on the internet and to make it open access so that it could be used by policymakers in, for example, the São Paulo State Department of the Environment.

Experience showed, however, that the information had to be translated into language that could be more easily understood if it was really to be used for the drafting of public policies, as was the case with the Map of Priority Areas for Conservation & Restoration in São Paulo State.

“When you do that translating, you produce a tool that can be used by government and policymakers,” Joly said. “That’s what we intend to do now for the whole of Brazil with BPBES, stepping up the dialogue we have with the two ministries already mentioned and extending it to others such as Planning and Agriculture, and also to other sectors of society, such as private enterprise.”

Production process

The researchers who are currently working together as part of BPBES plan to launch the diagnosis in July 2018.

First, however, they have produced a ten-page document entitled “Contributions to intersector dialogue: building the Brazilian diagnosis on biodiversity and ecosystem services”.

This is the first step in a process of consultation with the different sectors of Brazilian society the activities of which affect or are affected by biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, industry, agriculture, indigenous communities, and representatives of the international community and the media, among others. The purpose of this consultation is to solicit suggestions and to make any necessary adjustments to the diagnosis.

“The report will be critically constructive, and as practical as possible without being prescriptive. Its main aim will be to mainstream the role of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the national development model so as to accelerate the transition to sustainability,” said Fábio Scarano, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), a director of FBDS and a coordinator of BPBES, during the event.

“We mean to bring biodiversity and ecosystem services in out of the cold: at the moment, they’re marginal to the process of national development,” he added.

Among the points made by the researchers in the preparatory document are the vital importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to the economy, and the argument that the intense use of natural resources has not yet reduced poverty.

A PhD research project now being conducted by Thaís Kasecker, with Scarano as supervisor, shows that 52% of the population of the 437 Brazilian municipalities that have the greatest forest cover live in poverty.

Most of these people, who correspond to 13% of all the people living in poverty in Brazil, live in Western Amazonia, in the Caatinga – especially the São Francisco River basin – and in the Cerrado, according to Scarano.

“If these people strive to escape poverty via the traditional economic development model, which entails replacing nature with other kinds of land use, then we risk losing almost half the country’s entire forest cover,” he said. “For this reason, we must find ways of improving the lives of these people who have plenty of biodiversity but aren’t well off, without destroying what’s left of our biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

The report will not just present problems, he added. It will also point to solutions that are under way, strike a balance between geopolitical regions and biomes, as well as land, freshwater and marine environments, and include traditional knowledge of indigenous communities, as well as science.

The report will have five chapters and will be organized similarly to reports published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES), he said.

Inspiration

IPBES was established in 2012 in Panama by over 100 governments in response to requests from policymakers for a mechanism to provide scientific information on the state of knowledge regarding biodiversity and ecosystem services for conservation and sustainable development, along similar lines to the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with regard to the climate.

IPBES inspired the creation of BPBES by 18 researchers who took part in IPBES’s working groups and task forces. They met in 2015 at Indaiatuba, São Paulo State, to draw up a work agenda that began with the first Brazilian assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“The idea of creating the Brazilian Panel emerged precisely because a significant number of Brazilian researchers were involved in IPBES’s various working groups,” said Joly, who is co-chair of IPBES’s Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP).

“The fact that we have such a large group of Brazilians working with IPBES amounts to recognition of the quality of the science produced in a mega-diverse country that deals on a daily basis with the conflicts involved in integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services with other sectors of society, which we would like to be more sustainable,” Joly said.

Last year, IPBES published its first global assessment report on pollinators, pollination and food production, as well as a report on methodologies for the construction and analysis of biodiversity scenarios and modeling.

Jean Paul Metzger, Full Professor at the University of São Paulo’s Bioscience Institute (IB-USP), contributed to the assessment of methodologies.

The co-chairs and lead authors of the global assessment report on pollinators were Vera Imperatriz Fonseca, Full Professor at IB-USP’s Department of Ecology and a member of the BIOTA-FAPESP Program, and Professor Simon Potts from the University of Reading, UK.

The report was presented and discussed at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB), held in Cancún, Mexico, on December 4-17, 2016, and led to the creation of an international coalition to persuade national governments to take measures to protect pollinators and their habitats.

“Every scientist dreams of being relevant. In the case of the governmental and international organizations in the area of biodiversity [like IPBES], I believe they’re succeeding in making this dream of being relevant come true,” said FAPESP President José Goldemberg during the event.

Scientists in São Paulo State and FAPESP have acted highly effectively in the field of biodiversity, he added, because they have been able to influence the formulation of public policies for the area.

As an example, he cited the economic and ecological zoning map of São Paulo State that was produced by the BIOTA-FAPESP Program. This map demarcates the areas in which sugar and ethanol plants can be installed without affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“Different parts of the map of São Paulo were ‘painted’ different colors, and it was established that in some areas of the state, sugarcane must not be planted, period. As a result, any plan to establish a sugar mill or cane ethanol plant in one of these areas simply won’t be accepted even for analysis by the São Paulo State Department of the Environment,” Goldemberg said. “Today, it’s pointless to apply for permission to develop projects in the state’s Atlantic Rainforest areas.”

Participants in the event also included SBPC President Helena Nader, and José Pedro de Oliveira Costa, Secretary of Biodiversity & Forests at the Environment Ministry (MMA), among others.