A tireless supporter of environmental issues that include biodiversity policies and sustainable development, Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid has had a distinguished career in science. Widely known as a researcher, educator, and scientist he has made a lasting contribution to the observation, analysis and assessment of global biodiversity and ecosystem services. Born in Pahang, in 1948, Tan Sri Zakri trained as an agricultural scientist at Malaysia’s College of Agriculture. He received his Diploma in 1969 and, in 1972, completed his Bachelor of Science from Louisiana State University. In 1974 he received his Masters of Science from Michigan State University followed by his PhD in 1976.
Tan Sri Zakri has played a significant role in global environmental leadership. He is the founding chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). He is also one of the 26 members of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s elite Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). His work has contributed to raising awareness amongst global leaders of the relationship among living organisms, the interdependence of life and the global environment and the common nature integrating these inter-relationships. Passionate about sustainable development, he says: “The key component is nature and what can be done to sustain the planet. My job revolves around meeting leaders where negotiations are made. It is really enlightening to meet leaders with similar interests in environmental issues. We all share the same conviction to do something noteworthy. It’s inspiring to meet scientists, politicians, captains of industries, non-governmental organisations and major stakeholders who share a similar interest in the pursuit of sustainable development.”
Tan Sri Zakri is also known for his work as co-chair of the 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) – a ground breaking study in which he was instrumental in developing a number of the report’s key findings. From 2000 to 2005 Tan Sri Zakri, along with Sir Robert Watson (2012 Blue Planet Laureate) co-chaired the Board of the landmark UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, one of the world’s largest-ever scientific collaborations involving over 2,000 leading scientists from 95 countries in a comprehensive synthesis and analysis of the state of the Earth’s ecosystems, with summaries and guidelines for decision makers. The MA was a ground breaking scientific assessment to understand ecosystems and their services, the drivers of ecosystem changes, and the consequences of ecosystem changes for human well-being. The MA popularised the idea of essential "ecosystem services" - the point that nature provides humanity with many cost-free services such as water purification, and underscored the need to understand how that works and what role different species play in the process.
The integrated assessment measured 24 ecosystem services, concluding that only four have shown improvement over the last 50 years, 15 are in serious decline, and five are in a stable state overall, but under threat in some parts of the world. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Report, hailed the MA as “an outstanding example of the sort of international scientific and political cooperation that is needed to further the cause of sustainable development.” Subsequent analyses detailed significant impacts of the MA on the work of international conventions and agencies in research directions and priorities, in post-secondary courses and curricula, and in the work of several regional, national and sub-national governments.
As co-chair of the MA and Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies – United Nations University (a position he held from 2001 to 2008) Tan Sri Zakri inspired and initiated the landmark Japan Satoyama-Satoumi Assessment (JSSA) which focused on ecosystem services. This undertaking involved over 200 scientists, both from the natural and social sciences, from universities and research institutions in Japan. The JSSA was governed by a multi-stakeholder board and governmental advisory committee that represented key “users” across national and local scales.
The excellence of the MA and the Japanese Ecosystem Assessment led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the election of Tan Sri Zakri as its founding Chair at its first plenary meeting of 105 Member States, held in January 2013 in Bonn, Germany. A strong believer that “science should be used to make policy better,” Tan Sri Zakri was the driving force behind the IPBES, created to bridge the gap between scientists and policy makers, providing up- to-date, accurate, impartial data and scientific information to enable the formulation of better policy response in managing biodiversity. Informed, timely policy response is important to safeguard the biodiversity and ecosystem services essential for human well-being and the sustainability of our fragile planet for both current and future generations. IPBES is recognised by both the scientific and policy communities as an authoritative new platform to address existing gaps and strengthen the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
In 2014 Tan Sri Zakri was awarded the prestigious Zayed International Prize for the Environment for his role in providing global leadership in the field of environment. He was awarded the prize for his global role in championing environmental issues, in particular, developing a number of key findings in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report. Tan Sri Zakri was also a recipient of the Langkawi Award (1998). Three species have been named after Tan Sri Zakri: a beetle (Paleosepharia zakrii
), a cicada (Pomponia zakrii
) and a pitcher plant (Nepenthes zakriana
As a scientist, educator and researcher Tan Sri Zakri has made a lasting contribution to the observation, analysis, and assessment of global biodiversity and ecosystem services. In doing so he has fostered the remediation and protection of the natural environment and promoted environmental sustainability.
Tan Sri Zakri’s achievements, particularly in his global role in championing environmental issues has highlighted, to the wider community, Malaysia’s efforts in the realm of sustainable development. A passionate advocate for sustainable development he recognises that “sustainable development for Malaysia is poverty elimination – it is about promoting human well-being.”
While he maintains that “science, technology and innovation can be an engine for our economic development” Tan Sri Zakri is also a strong believer that “development must be tempered with a respect for the environment.” He has led efforts to develop a global assessment of biodiversity and its ecosystem services to provide scientific relevant policy advice for world leaders. His contribution has at its core an inclusive and integrated methodology and approach, a global perspective, and a long-term vision that has and will lead to further development. In this regard, his unerring commitment to protecting the natural environment and promoting environmental sustainability personifies the Spirit of Merdeka
and its pursuit of excellence and contribution to the Nation.