Dr. David Obura Elected New IPBES Chair



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Dr. Obura, who becomes the first African to hold the position, takes over from Colombian Ana María Hernández Salgar for a three-year term.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has steered assessments on a wide range of biodiversity issues since its founding in 2012. Leveraging scientific expertise from around the world, it has developed and advanced critical knowledge and policy frameworks, in areas such as pollination and food production, land degradation and restoration, the sustainable use of wild species, and, most recently, invasive alien species.

In early September 2023, CORDIO East Africa founding director, Dr. David Obura, was elected chair of the 144-member state body, becoming its first from the African continent. Obura, who had already made contributions to three IPBES assessments, takes over from Colombian Ana María Hernández Salgar for a three-year term.

Speaking to Inter Press Service, Obura underscored his hopes for wider outreach of IPBES’ work:

 “I want us to reach out to a broad spectrum of decision-makers, also in the corporate sector, to help them to make sustainable, tangible changes for people and nature. One key goal is to promote the findings and options for action of past IPBES Assessments, and to further leverage the potential that they have to transform actions around the world.’’

Dr. Obura addressing IPBES delegates after his election | Photo by IPBES

Needless to say, CORDIO is exceedingly proud of Obura’s elevation to this role by the members of IPBES. His passion for nature has informed his dedication to coral reefs and marine ecosystems throughout the Western Indian Ocean, and building up CORDIO to contribute from local to regional levels, and now global. He brings to the role his expertise in coral reefs, an ecosystem increasingly in the frontlines of climate change, and of critical importance to communities and countries in East Africa. “Coral reefs are really at the forefront of climate-impacted ecosystems because they are one of the most sensitive. Corals are a quite delicate symbiosis between the coral animal and single-celled plant cells within their tissue. They are tied to the environmental conditions that they have lived and evolved in and are extremely sensitive to temperature extremes,” Obura said.

Dr. Obura giving a presentation to coral reef management stakeholders in Kenya during one of CORDIO-led National Coral Reef Assessment (NCRA) workshops

Reflecting his focus on climate change impacts on coral reefs, the collaboration between IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), linking biodiversity loss and climate change, will be a priority during his tenure. Obura aims to further this collaboration integrating action on the two crises, among governments and across all stakeholders. Obura sees this effort as a core part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework, seeing as biodiversity sits across two goals – life on land and water (Goal 15 and 14, respectively), and that climate action is another (Goal 13). The work of IPBES, IPCC and other science-policy platforms stand as critical in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Obura et al's six-action paradigm for reversing biodiversity decline (2023)

On the in tray for Obura, as well, is enhancing biodiversity knowledge and data sharing, and area of primary focus for CORDIO in coral reef data in the WIO and globally:

“We have seen that very clearly in meteorological and weather services, because most primary data collected by any country, or any group are merged into common systems so that we can have amazing weather prediction happening now – all on the basis of open data. So, I think in the biodiversity fields, the more we can open up data and share them, the better the decisions we can make.”

For Dr. Obura, IPBES’ cherished principle of equity lies at the heart of successful cooperation amongst countries, and is an essential foundation for all work with stakeholders around coral reefs – particularly community fishers. It is something he hopes to increasingly see in the development and framing of scientific knowledge and policy.


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