Finding #3. Although an extensive knowledge base exists to support decision-making in each of the many science-policy interfaces, shared frameworks, methodologies and basic understandings to respond to the complex nature of biodiversity and ecosystem services issues remain missing or incompletely implemented. There are also significant gaps in knowledge that need to be filled.
A knowledge base that was jointly constructed and thus common to and shared by as many of the relevant knowledge holders and stakeholders as possible would provide substantial support for the effective identification, formulation, implementation and evaluation of environmental policy at a variety of levels and across a range of governance processes.
Facilitating opportunities for building such a common knowledge base could therefore be seen as one of the core functions of the broader science-policy interface. The processes involved in the joint creation and management of such a common knowledge base would be highly valuable in developing and maintaining coherence across the boundaries of science, politics, business or other relevant domains of societal organisation.
Those elements considered essential for a knowledge base on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and which are analyzed in more detail below, include:
basic knowledge needs;
processes for the incorporation of different types knowledge;
guidance on research strategies and long-term observation and monitoring systems;
availability and accessibility to data and information;
In reading this section it is important to remain aware of the wide variation geographically in the availability of data, information and knowledge, the ability to generate it, and the implications of this for planning decision making at all levels. In a review of CBD national biodiversity strategies and action plans (see Annex U) it was found that lack of scientific input in development of the strategies and plans was a major concern, with potential implications for subsequent implementation. This is addressed further later, in the section on providing fundamental capacity.
Basic knowledge needs and guidance on research strategies
Finding #3.1. Notwithstanding the considerable progress in and growth of the relevant sciences, some fundamental knowledge gaps exist, in particular with regard to the dynamic interactions between drivers of change, ecosystems and human well-being. This is of particular concern at the regional, national and local scales, where many of the most important interactions of this nature occur and where human well-being depends most directly on ecosystem services.
Full understanding of the interactions between human activity and biodiversity and ecosystem services is essential to ensuring improvements in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Exploration of the interactions between social and ecological systems has emerged as a vibrant field of research over the last two decades,18 and in particular the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) triggered a range of innovations and advances in the field. However, significant gaps in knowledge remain.
The recent report by a high-level multidisciplinary group of experts led by ICSU, UNESCO and UNU,19 which was established by the MA follow-up process to identify key gaps in knowledge and data, to design a research agenda, and to influence the priorities of research funding agencies, has identified20 that there is a lack of basic information both on the dynamics of social–ecological systems and the relationships of ecosystem services to human well-being. In particular they have identified that:
Research is needed to better understand effects of biodiversity in social–ecological context focusing on controls of ecosystem services themselves, addressing the effects of multiple drivers, structural factors including biodiversity, and human feedbacks across temporal and spatial scale; and addressing needs for information about how drivers and management interventions change ecosystem services – effects that are essential for understanding changes in ecosystem services and projecting the consequences of policies intended to improve ecosystem services.
Research is needed to build the empirical base for understanding thresholds of massive persistent changes in social–ecological systems, the factors that control probabilities of such changes, and leading indicators of incipient thresholds; and to develop policy approaches that build resilience for massive changes that are hard to predict and have long-lasting consequences.
Research is needed to improve the methodologies of quantification of tradeoffs of ecosystem services, to understand the true social value of non-marketed ecosystem services, and to derive the value of the ecosystem configurations that deliver different bundles of services.
Research is needed to understand how changes in ecosystem services interact with other determinants of human well-being. In addition, research is needed to understand the effect of changes in ecosystem services on wealth and poverty. Research is needed to clarify how changing flows of ecosystem services affect the most vulnerable members of society.
This report further states that, although some key questions relate to the impacts of global processes on ecosystems (e.g. the impact of trade and economic drivers) and the consequences of changes in ecosystems on global scale processes, research at a global scale cannot address many of the most important research challenges because research is essential at the scale at which interactions occur among ecosystem services and between drivers and ecosystem services and between ecosystem services and people. Many of the most important interactions of this nature occur at landscape and regional scales.
Also according to the report, the relative lack of knowledge at these landscape and regional scales was one of the greatest barriers encountered in the development of the MA, and is one of the key issues in the MA follow-up process (see Annex B). It is also one of the greater impediments to national implementation of environmental provisions agreed in the various MEA governance bodies, as for example, clearly shown by the extent to which countries have been able to develop and implement their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans as called for by CBD Article 6 (see Annex U).21
Particularly significant is the lack of such knowledge in developing countries. For example, according to a quantitative analysis of more than 6400 environmental sciences papers published 1993–2003, only 13% of the papers are based on research in the dry sub-tropical and tropical zones, although these eco-climatic zones account for more than half of the world’s land area.22 Further, according to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “Ninety-five percent of the new science in the world is created in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the world's population. And much of that science […] neglects the problems that afflict most of the world's people.” 23
Lack of such knowledge in developing countries is not only accounted for as one of the greater challenges to policy implementation in these countries, it is also impeding the development of effective global environmental assessments that rely predominantly (or almost exclusively in the case of the IPCC) on published research results in peer-reviewed journals. Given the North-South bias in the published literature it can be argued that the resulting global assessments may currently be less ‘global’ than they set out to be, and that global negotiations and policy that are informed by these assessments may be inadequately addressing the perspectives of developing countries in particular.24
Guidance on research strategies
Finding #3.2. Although a range of institutions support the development of research strategies to meet policy needs, there is currently no process providing common and regularly reviewed guidance on a strategic approach to research to ensure that the most important needs in terms of knowledge to support more effective governance at all levels are being identified and responded to in a coordinated manner.
Helping to guide and/or influence the development and implementation of research strategies is of clear interest to the science-policy interface so as to help ensure future access to relevant research results and information based on them. To reach this aim, a science-policy interface would have to ensure coordination and a continuous dialogue about future research needs and strategies between those policy mechanisms and decision makers that are in need of further information, those responsible for developing research strategy, and the organization, networks, programmes and knowledge holders that would provide this information.
With both supply of and demand for scientific knowledge emerging from complex networks of individuals and institutions with diverse incentives, capabilities, roles, and cultures, it can be argued that more appropriate and more effective decisions about resource allocation, institutional design, programme organisation, and information dissemination science would be achieved if they were informed by knowledge about the supply of science, the demand for science, and the relationship between the two.25
Several organisations, programmes or initiatives support development of research strategies to meet policy needs in one way or the other, for example the following:
The International Council for Science (ICSU), with global and regional representations representing both national scientific bodies and international scientific unions, provides a forum for discussion of issues relevant to policy for international science and the importance of international science for policy issues, and undertakes, inter alia, planning and coordination of inter-disciplinary research to address major issues relevant to both science and society.
DIVERSITAS is an international programme of biodiversity science with a mission to promote an integrative biodiversity science, linking biological, ecological and social disciplines in an effort to produce socially relevant new knowledge to provide the scientific basis for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It also aims to establish national committees and collaboration with other organisations to enlarge and strengthen scientific networks to easier identify global research priorities, allocate resources, facilitate knowledge transfer, and support capacity building.
The International Social Science Council (ISSC), is an international non-profit-making scientific organisation with headquarters at UNESCO in Paris . It is the primary international body representing the social and behavioural sciences at a global level. The Council's role is to advance the practice and use of the social and behavioral sciences in all parts of the world, and to ensure their global representation. This involves among other things work to ensure their utilization and relevance to the problems of humankind. Such promotion includes, wherever possible, the assistance of policy development at international and national levels, and the use of high quality social science research to further economic well-being and quality of life in all parts of our globe.
The Academy of Sciences for the developing world (TWAS), an autonomous international organization, based in Trieste, Italy, that promotes scientific excellence for sustainable development in the South. Originally named "Third World Academy of Sciences", it was founded in 1983 by a distinguished group of scientists from the South to promote scientific excellence and capacity in the South for science-based sustainable development.
The European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) is an example of a regional forum at which natural and social scientists, policy-makers and other stakeholders identify structure and focus the strategically important research that is essential to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity from a European perspective.
The Scientific, Technical and Research Commission of the African Union (AU/STRC), established to coordinate and promote scientific and technological research and findings and to serve as a clearing house for all scientific and technical activities of the continent through a sharpening of the overall national and regional development plans, strategies and policies in order to ensure full exploitation of national and natural resources for durable long term growth and development.
While each of these, and many more institutions not mentioned here, contribute significantly to building a common knowledge base in one way or the other, it can be argued that gaps in understanding that exist today are evidence of the fact that those fundamental challenges cannot be adequately addressed through uncoordinated studies of individual components of isolated traditional disciplines in an ad hoc set of research sites scattered across the globe.26, 27 It is suggested that what is lacking or insufficient are:
Processes that systematically assess and reconcile the supply and demand for science information on biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to ensure that research agendas are more relevant to science-policy needs, that research agendas and user needs are more closely matched, and that institutional constraints, and other obstacles do not prevent effective use of results.
Guidance on and coordination of place-based long-term social–ecological research, based on a conceptual framework that can be applied at multiple scales and accounts for interactions across scales, so as to allow for opportunities for unique place-specific research, comparisons across a network of places, and to address the connections of ecosystem processes and institutions across local, regional, and global scales.
Opportunities to learn from ongoing management programmes and policies to better understand the factors that influence the outcomes of programmes intended to improve ecosystem services and human well-being. Only rarely is the success of these projects evaluated by using appropriate data and indicators. There is a lack of a framework for assessing changes in social–ecological systems, by using metrics and indicators that can be collected consistently and compared across the range of cases.
It is also suggested that a further constraint is the lack of information tools delivering systematic reviews providing an evidence-based framework to evaluate effectiveness and support decision-making in biodiversity and ecosystem services management.28
Finding #3.3. While awareness of the need to draw more systematically on a broad range of knowledge types is growing, there remains a lack of processes for ensuring the effective incorporation of types of knowledge into the knowledge base, including the incorporation of knowledge from other sectors and disciplines, non-formal knowledge and mutual learning.
The modern world is characterized by an unprecedented fragmentation and specialization of knowledge, including scientific knowledge.29 Yet, the knowledge needs identified in the previous sections clearly suggest the importance of drawing on a wide range of different types of knowledge and mutual learning when building the common knowledge base for sound decision-making. In this context in particular, two important issues come to fore as regards important aspects for the effectiveness of science-policy interfaces on biodiversity and ecosystem services:
the need to address the challenges of interdisciplinarity; and
the need to include other, non-formal types of knowledge.
It has long been agreed that interdisciplinary approaches are essential to building the knowledge base necessary for enhancing the governance of the environment and sustainable development, and there have been significant advances in number and quality.30 However, true and meaningful interdisciplinary research necessary for an effective science-policy interface still remains a challenge for at least the following reasons:31
Scientists in different disciplines have different perspectives and approaches. For example, it has been said that “Most of the social scientists are discussing the means of interdisciplinarity without an end in sight whereas many natural scientists are ardently promoting an end without deeper consideration of the means involved.”32
Science is often inaccurately or incompletely homogenized, neglecting the diversity of approaches to research and the types of resulting knowledge, and at the same time it is not fully appreciated that knowledge can have different power and implications associated with it within the sciences, between natural and social sciences, and between science and societal knowledge.
The prevalence of earlier more disciplinary and reductionist concepts of science in the organization of society and its institutions can constrain efforts to facilitate and coordinate interdisciplinary knowledge production.
An analysis of interdisciplinary scientific assessment for environmental governance has emphasized the mismatch between the emerging understandings of the complexity of reality, the ways scientists have come to understand this complexity, and the way science connects to politics, policy, and management.33 In this context, scientific advisory bodies and processes, and other components of the science-policy interface, can all play an important role in promoting interdisciplinarity.
The experience of the MA demonstrated that the complexity and critical importance of systemic interactions with the environment can best be understood through a collective, discursive process of scientists learning together. It is argued that such collective learning processes need to be increased, and most importantly, that these methods need to be institutionalised in a way that they are ongoing and able to inform new, more integrated governance.34
Local ecological knowledge
Even more challenging is the incorporation of local ecological knowledge.35 It is now widely accepted that the knowledge and practices of local communities make important contributions to the maintenance of biological diversity and ecosystem services (see Annex K for a more detailed review). The key challenge now is to move beyond merely accepting in principle the importance of traditional knowledge in policy-making to ensuring these knowledges and practices are fully considered and implemented in policy decisions in a more systematic way.
A wide range of innovative and sophisticated approaches and examples of tools have already been developed by Indigenous organisations, Indigenous communities and those working in collaboration with Indigenous peoples to facilitate the application of local ecological knowledge and expertise in biodiversity and ecosystem services management.36,37
However, such initiatives remain a small fraction of the practice in the formal world of research, planning, education, and decision-making. Most of the time, local ecological knowledge still remains ignored by the science-policy interface relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services management, and if it is taken into account, this has largely been accomplished through the work of western-trained academics and other intermediaries, following the largely linear, extractive academic convention of documenting and publishing traditional knowledge related to biodiversity.38
However, the primary goal in incorporating traditional knowledge into biodiversity decision-making cannot be premised on a straightforward “integration”of western scientific and traditional knowledge systems and methods. Incorporating traditional knowledge and expertise into dominant western scientific and legal paradigms, without due consideration and understanding of cultural diversity as inextricably linked to biological diversity, is not only inadequate, but potentially detrimental to both biological diversity and local communities whose existences and well-being are interdependent with biological and ecological systems.39
Among the main reasons for the current lack of incorporation of local ecological knowledge into science-policy interface processes is:
The complexity of the issue and the fact that no one-size-fits-all solution will or can emerge for how traditional knowledge and western science can be brought together in a synergism founded on complementarity.
The serious levels of erosion local ecological knowledge is facing, as the peoples and communities holding local ecological knowledge themselves face a range of threats from outright annihilation to ‘assimilation’ into ‘mainstream’ society, the knowledge they hold also slips away.
The continuing view that local ecological knowledge is inferior to scientific knowledge and the inherent inequity in distribution of power that stands in the way of governments, academic scientists, policy makers and others seeking meaningful collaborations with Indigenous organisations and communities.
Instead, a meaningful incorporation of local ecological knowledge into the science-policy interface requires at least the following:
Recognition, tolerance and facilitation of the expression of divergent styles of reasoning, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of each knowledge type, providing for access to and exchanges of information and for capacity building, allowing for mutual learning, exploring ways to build synergies to fill gaps and enhance comparative advantages of different knowledge types.
Tested models, templates and guidance on how to engage and disengage in ethical and equitable relationships (both within and outside of communities), and storage and management of vast amounts of information in various forms and with built-in mechanisms for multilevel or tiered access and degrees of stringency in control of information flow.
Acknowledgement of and support to ensuring the continuation of the social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual contexts within which such knowledge arises and is meaningful. This means the full recognition of the territorial, cultural, and political rights and responsibilities of indigenous peoples and local communities,40 and the need to avoid generalizations or extrapolations that may overlook significant regional differences or diversity and lead to erroneous outcomes.
A balance between the need to document and make more widely available traditional knowledge related to maintenance of biodiversity on the one hand, and the need to ensure protections against unfair or harmful exploitation of the knowledge and interrelated bio-cultural resources.