Published online 13 August 2008 | Nature 454, 809 (2008) | doi:10.1038/454809a

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Biodiversity body 'lacks science'

Swedish researchers criticize credentials of convention.

Swedish researchers have launched a scathing attack on the scientific credentials of an international advisory body on biodiversity, warning that its effectiveness is being undermined by the increasing dominance of politicians and professional negotiators.

Their concerns about the work of the scientific body that advises the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are widely shared, the convention's own executive secretary, Ahmed Djoghlaf, has told Nature. The convention has been signed by 168 countries who pledge to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Article 25 of the convention states that government representatives shall be “competent in the relevant field of expertise”, but according to the Swedes, this is often not the case.

In a letter published in Conservation Biology, the ten scientists in the Swedish delegation to the CBD say that some parties to the convention are clearly trying to move away from science so that the convention does not interfere with trade and economic growth (L. Laikre et al. Conserv. Biol. 22 , 814–815; 2008).

Per Wramner of Södertörn University College in Flemingsberg, who is one of the letter's authors, says that the February CBD meeting in Rome pushed them to act after it became bogged down in political wrangling and semantics. “This last meeting was a disaster from the scientific perspective,” says Wramner, who chairs the Swedish government's CBD advisory group.

“Mexico and the European Union also expressed concern that there are too many new issues of procedure and of a policy nature,” says Djoghlaf.

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Conservation scientist Michael Stocking of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, says that the nomination system is “the core of the problem, in that these tend to be government nominees … not scientists who are up to date with the literature”. Countries that fund the CBD will have to insist on change for it to actually happen, says Stocking, who is vice-chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel for the Global Environment Facility, which administers the funding for the CBD.

The concerns come amid attempts led by France to create a new international science policy group on biodiversity. Modelled on the same independent framework as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this new body could mitigate some of the recently raised concerns. A 'concept note' for the new group was circulated last month by France. 

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