Posts Tagged ‘Science-policy interface’

The IBPES is established – Is it all good news?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was officially created on April 23rd. It’s secretariat will be based in Bonn (Germany).

In brief, the ambition of the IPBES is to replicate the IPCC’s role in the climate debate in informing the sustainable use / conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. That’s appears to be an even more challenging goal that limiting green-house gas concentrations…

Establishing the IPBES is certainly a victory for biodiversity and conservation worldwide, with greater scientific input into decisions that affect biodiversity across the globe. Nevertheless, this victory will certainly come at a cost.

Two issues are worth considering:

  • Who will pay for this? If its workings are comparable to those of the IPCC, then funding IPBES will require a lot of money. Unfortunately, the funds for running the IPBES will most likely have to be taken from existing public funding for conservation. Deciding which programs will loose out (on-the ground actions? research?) will be tricky.
  • How legitimate will it be on the ground? The IPBES is clearly set in a vision of natural resource management that subscribes to the technogarden scenario of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. One can easily imagine that – as is the case for the IPCC – not everyone will want to have scientists, mostly from the developed world, monitor their activities and publish recommendations and guidelines on how to minimize biodiversity impacts or enhance ecosystem services.
  • Concerning this second issue, Morgan Robertson puts it nicely in his blog:

    one person’s ecosystem services are another person’s conditions of biological existence, and to have them continuously monitored, valued and recorded is… unsettling. At the very least — regardless of the merits of the conservation actions — it unavoidably creates an unequal power relationship (or, more likely, reinforces an already-existing one) between the monitor and the monitored.

    This is worth remembering. As was often remarked by those involved in launching the IPBES, the devil lies in the governance structure. As always!

    The science of IPBES in Science…

    Friday, February 18th, 2011

    Science magazine published today a policy article about the challenges facing the recently launched Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

    The authors, all of which are key players in the international earth systems science partnership, present the three key challenges for IPBES to reach its goals:

  • Strengthening the science
  • Strengthening assessments
  • Strengthening policy relevance
  • In discussing these challenges, they insist on the need to broaden their partnerships and in particular to seek more input from the policy community, from less developed nations and the social sciences.

    Greater involvement by social sciences is justified by the need to better incorporate “values” of biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to strengthen policy relevance. The authors argue that this valuation step was missing in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment but put forward by the TEEB initiative in 2010. Let us hope that the IPBES will keep a critical outlook on this agenda.

    The IPBES launched in Busan

    Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

    The recent UNEP meeting in Busan has officially recommended the establishment of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.

    Diversitas reports:

    Delegates agreed that IPBES will be established as an independent intergovernmental body, administered by one or more existing UN organisations. IPBES will respond to requests of government and also welcome suggestions from all relevant stakeholders, such as MEAs, scientific organisations, NGOs and the private sector. IPBES will perform regular and timely assessments of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services. These assessments will be scientifically independent and peer-reviewed. IPBES will also support policy formulation and implementation, and place a major emphasis on capacity building needs to improve the science-policy interface.

    The official launch will most likely take place during the 65th session of the UN General Assembly (on 20-30 September 2010).

    Ecosystem services: Between proof-of-concept and early adoption

    Friday, January 29th, 2010

    Bob Searle and Serita Cox of the Bridgespan group recently published a report on “the state of ecosystem services” (pdf available here). The report analyses the current use of the ecosystem service concept in practice, i.e. in public policies and private sector initiatives. Many of the report’s conclusions are well know to people in the field of ecosystem service science, but several points deserve to be mentioned.

    For a start, the report concludes that ecosystem services conservation is between proof-of-concept and early adoption. Never more. Often less.

    It also looks into the challenges facing the concept for it to gain policy-relevance and thus go beyond early adoption. The missing requirements are often the following:

  • Scientific evidence that is on a comparable scale to the policy’s authority
  • Scientific evidence that is geographically applicable
  • Scientific evidence that is sufficiently validated and appropriately standardized to avoid legal challenges
  • Strong leadership and advocacy to create the drive to change
  • The issue of standardization is often overlooked by ecosystem scientists yet one of the most difficult aims to achieve without reaching outside academia to other actors such as EIA consulting companies, government agencies, businesses or NGOs. Such reaching out requires common goals, which are themselves dependent on strong leadership and advocacy. Who are the individuals and institutions who are taking up this role? Pages 18 to 23 list interesting examples of ecosystem service-based initiatives, both in the public and private sector.

    The report lists a set of barriers to the development and implementation of ecosystem service conservation (page 24) as well as risks associated with the spread of the ecosystem service concept:

  • Shifting of negative impact: The small scale of most ecosystem services efforts can lead to shifting of negative impact behavior to other regions.
  • Social inequity: Placing a dollar value on something that has been free creates equity concerns and can negatively affect people living in poverty.
  • Decreased cost-effectiveness: Ecosystem services programs may not be the most cost-effective approaches to conservation.
  • Diversion of scarce resources: Focusing on the conservation of an ecosystem service could divert resources from known, tested solutions to unknown, experimental approaches (e.g., restoring mangrove forests instead of building storm walls).
  • Abandonment of established practices: Ecosystem services programs could lead environmental groups to abandon other forms of environmental conservation that have worked in the past.
  • Lack of biodiversity conservation: Ecosystem services programs do not necessarily lead to biodiversity conservation and may negatively affect full, native biodiversity.
  • Unknown, unintended consequences: On a large scale, the risk of unintended consequences becomes a significant concern. Ecosystem services projects could lead to unpredicted, unknown, and irreversible outcomes.
  • This list of potential risks does not mention more general concerns about the “parcelisation” or “commodification” of nature commonly associated with ecosystem service based approaches. The report does however mention that most ecosystem service projects focus on only one or a short selection of ecosystem services rather than on the full suite of services that a given ecosystem provides. Pushing this concern further would show that maintaining fully-functional and/or resilient ecosystems might be a more useful goal than maintaining or enhancing their capacity to provide one or a few services. One or a few services that are deemed important here and now but perhaps not there and then…

    IPBS: It’s all about the “how”!

    Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

    The IPBS had its second ad-hoc meeting in Nairobi on 5-9 October. Participants in the meeting shared some of their thoughts on the event in last week’s Open Science Conference by DIVERSITAS in Cape Town.

    They said that everyone agreed an IPBES was needed and that hopefully the IPBES would be launched in September 2010, at the UN General Assembly. Note that 2010 is also the international year of biodiversity – can’t hurt!

    However, the concrete functioning of an IPBS platform wasn’t agreed upon. It seems that it would be intergovernmental and anchored to UNEP. Being intergovernmental, national governments will be the #1 entry point into the IPBES process and effective lobbying will be essential. Speakers at Diversitas mentionned that unfortunately, participants were not necessarily well informed of the issues at stake. Their point was that the scientific community could do a better job of providing input to their country representatives.

    Other questions on stand-by relate to the scientific advisory committee of the IPBS (i.e. will it have one?), its role beyond serving international conventions (can it actually provide information to national governments, civil society or the private sector?), how knowledge will be framed to make it relevant and more. These questions are all about “how”!

    How you craft the policy-science interface – the platform’s governance – is key. It will be negotiated at the third and final meeting (perhaps in April 2010).

    If all goes well, a clear separation will be set up between governments who request knowledge and information, and the scientific community who will have to collect and synthesize all the information, in a non-prescriptive format, for countries to decide upon. If the science gets politicized, the whole platform will be a waste of time.

    Ever heard of the IPBS?

    Monday, September 21st, 2009

    The IPBS will have its second ad-hoc meeting in early October. Never heard of the IPBS?

    That’s not surprising. The IPBS – Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – is still a recent addition to the suite of international bodies concerned with biodiversity and ecosystem services. Born of the consultative process towards an international mechanism of scientific expertise on biodiversity (IMoSEB – launched in 2005 after the Paris Conference) and the follow-up process to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, it aims to replicate the successful trajectory of the IPCC for climate change in the field of biodiversity loss and sustainable use of ecosystem services. Unlike other organizations such as the Millennium Assessment or Diversitas, the IPBS would formally involve governments in its assessment process, thereby giving greater political legitimacy to its conclusions.

    A gap analysis was carried-out in preparation to the forthcoming meeting (available here) to identify the main gaps in the science-policy interface concerning biodiversity and ecosystem services. One of the findings of the analysis is that there is “(…) a lack of regular processes providing periodic, timely and policy-relevant information covering the full range of biodiversity and ecosystem service issues to the broader development community” (point #14, page 6).

    Suggested paths of information flow for the future IPBS (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services)

    The cycle of science-policy interface according to the IPBS

    We will find out after the meeting how exactly the IPBS will provide the means for such close interaction between scientific knowledge and policy needs. Stay tuned!