Finding #3.4. Notwithstanding continuing efforts, there remain significant gaps in long-term observation and monitoring programmes, in particular as regards data and information on interactions between drivers of change, ecosystems and human well-being, and on particular geographic regions.
To ensure that the common knowledge base is able to provide relevant, credible and legitimate support to decision makers, now and in the future, it is important to ensure data capture oriented to addressing the current needs of decision makers, and their anticipated future needs. Observations made over long periods of time, including remote sensing, and programmes and process that bring observations together can have particular relevance for decision making processes because of their ability to illustrate change and trends, and to be able in some cases to link these changes and trends to pressures on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and on human intervention to address those pressures and changes. These can be considered by looking at three inter-related groups of activities: Earth observation; long term research activities; and monitoring programmes.41
Recognizing that increased international collaboration was essential for exploiting the growing potential of Earth observations to support decision making, the Group on Earth Observations was launched in 2005 as a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations to coordinate efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Much progress has been made in implementation of the 10-Year Implementation Plan42, but in reporting to the Earth Observation Summit in 2007 the GEO Secretariat admitted that considerable work still needed to be done to fully incorporate GEOSS projects into decision-making processes, despite the existence of an ever widening group of user communities.
The GEO Biodiversity Observation Network was established in 2007 with the intention of providing a coordinating framework working across many of the existing efforts to observe biodiversity. The intention is that such a coordinated biodiversity observation network would enable new and synthetic understanding of biodiversity and its role in maintaining the Earth system and humanity’s place in it, facilitating the efforts of governments and the global community to address biodiversity loss by improving the ability to accurately monitor trends in biodiversity and to develop and test response scenarios, including addressing important gaps in observations. GEO-BON aims to address a number of known shortcomings and gaps in long-term observation and monitoring programmes, but it is still new and actively evolving.
Long term research at the national level, and international collaboration in long term research, is promoted by a range of international initiatives including in particular the International Long Term Ecological Research programme and the UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme. In both cases the global network comprises a range of national and regional initiatives that have associated themselves with the programmes concerned. While both programmes (ILTER and MAB) identify priorities for various aspects of research, implementation at the national level is essentially dependent on national or site-level priorities and available resources. The evaluation of MAB carried out in 2002 reported favourably on a wide range of issues, but notable was the observation that socio-economic research needed further attention, something that has also been identified as a weakness in the ILTER network.
Since the 2010 target was adopted in 2002 there has been a significant amount of discussion in the scientific literature on monitoring programmes,43 particularly with respect to ensuring the availability of data for development and delivery of indicators. The essential message is that monitoring programmes need to be established and/or substantially improved so as to ensure the availability of the data necessary for tracking change in individual species and ecosystems, focusing on specific taxa and ecosystems, and ensuring geographic coverage which is currently particularly biased. Within its own area of interest, the Ramsar Convention has developed a handbook on inventory, assessment and monitoring intending to help address part of this need for wetlands, and others are taking similar steps.
However of particular concern is that there are few monitoring programmes currently that directly or indirectly address the delivery of ecosystem services that depend on biodiversity, or the value of biodiversity to local people. When the MA was carried out it made extensive use of the long-term data that was available on social–ecological variables, but the relative scarcity of such data made it difficult to evaluate trends and draw conclusions about relationships of social–ecological variables.44
Review of the information needs of the MA, and consideration of the gaps that needed to be addressed in the future by monitoring programmes included the following, building on what is already provided by other programmes that already exist. It is noteworthy that most of these relate closely to the needs for indicators identified by other processes, which is discussed further in a later section. The identified needs45, 46 are:
comprehensive time series information on changes in land cover and land use, biotic systems, and changes in use and ecological characteristics of oceans;
locations and rates of desertification;
spatial patterns and changes in freshwater quantity and quality, for ground and surface waters;
stocks, flows, and economic values of ecosystem services;
trends in human use of ecosystem services;
changes in institutions and governance arrangements; and
trends in components of human well-being.
With respect to long term observation and monitoring systems, coordination is essential in steps to harmonize data collection and management, including the adoption and promotion of standards and standard terminologies, and in building data sharing networks as is discussed below.
Availability of and accessibility to data and information
Finding #3.5. While progress has been made, there remain significant barriers to the effective use of existing data and knowledge resulting from institutional and technical impacts on both the availability of data and information and on the ability of users to gain access to such data and information in meaningful ways.
Data and information is fundamental to understanding status and trends in biodiversity, and the results of human interaction with biodiversity, and they are therefore essential components of biodiversity assessments, indicators and models, and provide the basis for monitoring impacts of decisions made at all levels. The spread of the Internet has been enormously helpful in improving opportunities for sharing data, information and knowledge, however, despite the Internet, despite the many programmes, networks and institutions collecting and managing data at all levels, and despite a far more clearly understood need for data and information, there remain a number of barriers to more effective use of biodiversity information, even where it already exists.
These barriers include: cultural barriers, which lead to an unwillingness to share data; lack of standardization, which makes it more difficult to combine data from multiple sources; insufficient incentive for those collecting and managing data to make it available to others; cost of digitization where the data concerned is still only available in hard copy; lack of information on datasets, on how data was collected and subsequently handled; and insufficient tools for providing meaningful access to data.
These barriers result in data availability and data access varying significantly from one part of the world to another. This is further compounded by the fact that species diversity is not fully described, that there is no broadly accepted classification of ecosystems, and that knowledge at the genetic level is even patchier than at the species or ecosystem level.
Having said this, many programmes, networks and institutions working at all levels are collecting and managing data for a variety of purposes, developing and promoting the use of standards, identifying ways to bring a variety of data from multiple sources together, developing increasingly sophisticated online access to data, and so on. All of this increases the data and information potentially available for supporting decision making, while recognising that significant taxonomic, thematic and geographical gaps remain.
However perhaps the most difficult barriers to address are the cultural barriers to sharing data and information, and to publishing it,47,48 which range from financial issues to inter-institutional trust, and from concerns about releasing data before research is complete to publishing models which restrict access to those who have paid. There is now an increasing pressure to place data and information in the public domain, and momentum on this is increasing.
In the context of improving the use of data and information in decision making the following actions are key. Some are already under way to a greater or lesser extent, and some have strong champions, but there are advantages to be gained if there were increased coordination, clearer political support and more secure financing, and if more attention was being paid to those knowledge gaps of particular importance for decision making processes:
Promoting and facilitating the use of internationally adopted standards, terminology and nomenclature so that data and information can be more easily shared and combined.
Ensuring that datasets and information repositories have associated metadata describing for potential users their provenance, and the methodologies used for data capture, management and manipulation.
Advertising the existence of datasets and information repositories more widely so as to increase their use by interested parties.
Promoting and facilitating increased online access to data and information (including publications) so that others are able to use them.
Developing and testing methods for combining data captured at different scales and using different methods so that they can be meaningfully and effectively used - so called data harmonization.
Developing tools that locate and/or combine data from multiple sources, and present these in ways that aim to directly support the decision making process.
Promoting a culture that reduces restrictions on access to data and information, encouraging organizations and individuals alike to work towards open access to data, information, expertise and knowledge.
Building the capacity of those managing data and information to carry out many of the tasks identified above for their own databases and information repositories.
Increasing coordination in improving access to data and information will substantially improve the knowledge base, particularly when combined with better understanding of the needs of policy makers.
Particularly important for increasing access to information are the development of national and regional information networks, the latter also facilitating and promoting the development of the former. The Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN), for example, is beginning to play a valuable role in building capacity for data management and sharing at national and regional levels, initiated at least in part with the intention of supporting decision making. At the national level organizations such as the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the Comision Nacional el Conocimiento y Uso de la Bioversidad (CONABIO) in Mexico are examples of networks which provide some of the same functions at the national level, helping to ensure access to data and information relevant for decision making. Both regional and national networks are actively supported by international programmes and networks which facilitate and promote increased access to data.
One other specific case of barriers to use of existing knowledge which it is worth emphasising further concerns access to publications, including in particular the scientific literature. The current publishing model and the costs of purchasing publications, and in many cases even of access to them over the internet, is essentially reducing access to and use of published knowledge. This particularly affects those in developing countries. There are programmes and activities addressing this, such as the increase in public access journals on the internet, online publishing, the OARE project, and specific national efforts in a range of countries, but these need further promotion and extension.
Effectively informing policy
Finding #4. Various mechanisms synthesize, present and communicate knowledge to inform policy. There is, however, 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. This information and knowledge is not always translated and communicated in the most efficient way or the most useful format.
Adequate synthesis, presentation and communication of the knowledge base is just as important as the creation of it, given that different rationalities, discourses and norms need to be bridged to effectively inform policy. Benefits that accrue from ensuring that policy makers have access to information from science and scientists in a form that best helps them to use it. For example, information provided is far more likely to be used if it is:
Context specific: the implications of scientific research are expressed in such a manner that their relevance to policy issues and decision making is readily apparent to a non-scientist;
Clearly expressed: the implications of scientific research are expressed succinctly, and in such a manner that the conclusions and implications are readily understood by a non-scientist;
Credible: arising from recognised, independent and unbiased sources, backed up by necessary research and supplementary evidence (and where appropriate caveats), and peer reviewed;
Appropriately communicated: delivered in the most appropriate formats and through the most appropriate channels to ensure that it is taken account of;
Responsive: directly responding to the identified needs of or requests from policy making bodies and decision-makers (whether by direct request or responding to know agendas); and
Timely: the information is delivered not only in appropriate formats, but to timetables appropriate for consideration by those developing policy and making decisions.
There is a long history in environmental governance of trying to ensure that policy is informed by the best knowledge available, and a variety of mechanisms of synthesizing, presenting and communicating knowledge to inform policy have emerged over time, and across scales and different regimes. However, despite the increasing role of science advice in governance, questions continue as to whether scientific advice is being delivered in the most effective way. Based on a review of previous discussion on the science-policy interface, the following elements are considered essential for synthesizing, presenting and communicating knowledge to inform policy on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and are analyzed in more detail below:
nature and scope of synthesis, presentation and communication of knowledge to inform policy;
models, scenarios and indicators;
early warning of emerging issue of concern.
Nature and scope of synthesis, presentation and communication of knowledge to inform policy
Clear and authoritative synthesis and communication of knowledge to inform policy
Finding #4.1. As a result of the vast quantity and varying quality of differing, fragmented and sometimes even contradictory knowledge currently available, together with the lack of clear authoritative synthesis and a clear and targeted communication thereof, decisions taken are not necessarily informed by the best available knowledge.
For essentially historic reasons “western” society is characterized by a fragmentation and specialization of knowledge, including, in particular, scientific knowledge. Dividing, reducing, or structuring the world into distinct separate realms of learning and research was key to early processes of science. This has also had an influence on governance. As scientists began to play an increasing role in calling for policy change, the structure of science became mirrored to some extent as new governance arrangements evolved, resulting in an similarly divided and fragmented institutional landscape of governance.49 This fragmentation is particularly evident in environmental governance. In biodiversity and ecosystem services governance, institutions have been created case by case over a long period of time, resulting in an array of conventions, institutions, networks and programmes with overlapping remits and often poorly defined boundaries between them.
This fragmentation is also reflected in the system of institutional arrangements established to interface science and policy on matters regarding biodiversity and ecosystem services governance, and provide advice to it.50 Not only is there a vast quantity and varying quality of differing, fragmented and sometimes even contradicting knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services, there is also a wide range of differing, fragmented and sometimes potentially incompatible processes established to bridge this knowledge with policy. While this range of different knowledge and institutions and their fragmentation are to some extent necessary to ensure some degree of efficiency and effectiveness in the face of the complexity of inherently interlinked global environmental change, it is more and more difficult to reach a shared understanding and hence to take corrective steps.51
In the absence of institutional arrangements that would ensure the provision of relevant, credible and legitimate information and advice on the issue of biodiversity and ecosystem services on which all relevant users could draw, information and advice can potentially be contested. As a result there is debate on the science in most scientific advisory bodies and processes, and the potential for States, large NGOs and other knowledge holders with vested interests to use science as a tool for politics, instead of supporting decision-making processes by providing an authoritative overview of the best available knowledge.
A direct outcome of this are expressed concerns that range from the workings of SBSTTA and the politicisation of debate on scientific issues,52, 53 to the wide application of prioritization approaches used by some NGOs which are influencing conservation and development investments.54 This is not to say that either are necessary wrong or inappropriate, but that concerns are being expressed, and that this is in part a result of not having a clear and authoritative synthesis and communication of knowledge to inform policy.
This is rather different to the situation in climate change governance, which relies to large extent on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for much of the scientific validation of concepts and information. This has considerably reduced debates over scientific credibility in processes such as the UNFCC SBSTA, because as a result of the existence of the IPCC – which predates the adoption of the UNFCCC – there is little debate on many of the scientific issues as government has already accepted the results in another forum. This is not to say that this covers all scientific issues and there is not debate, but that for many issues this is not necessary.
In effect, the fragmented nature of science and scientific organizations is also contributing to this for the very reason that they do not speak with one voice, and have often not found themselves able to do so. The MA is an example where they have done so, and this has substantially contributed to the very significant shift in thinking so that the world is far more concerned with ecosystem services, and links between biodiversity and human wellbeing. It therefore seems true to say that the more science and scientists can speak with one voice, and the more credible, relevant and legitimate the process or processes that enable them to do so, then the more effective the results are likely to be in informing policy development and implementation.
Issue advocacy versus brokering knowledge in form of policy options
Finding #4.2. Knowledge is often not presented in the form of clear policy alternatives that systematically outline the implications of policy options under detailed framing assumptions and provide better guidance in policy implications.
There is tendency to think55 that within the science-policy interface there should be an unproblematic, linear relationship between scientists and decision makers, in which the output from one process - the production of knowledge - becomes the raw material for another - the making of policies and decisions - and in which achieving agreement on scientific knowledge will lead to political consensus and clear courses of action. The underlying assumptions of this conception, although subject to a robust and well-developed critique,56 are implicit in much policy discourse and often supported by natural scientists and policy makers alike.
In this context, important efforts which aim to interfacing science and policy, such as global environmental assessments, are predominantly aimed at reaching consensus on the scientific knowledge with respect to the status, trends and predictions of the most important drivers of environmental change in order to further environmental governance efforts.
However, there are no unambiguous answers in science that would resolve political conflicts over complex problems of global environmental change. Processes achieving legitimate outcomes over environmental conflicts involve bargaining, negotiation and compromise. Thus in situations of political gridlock, policy-makers frequently need new options, and not more science to advance in environmental governance.57
Therefore there is a need for the scientific community to differentiate scientific results from the policy significance of those results, and to go beyond the presentation of scientifically unambiguous statements of status and trends, and engage more actively in policy analysis facilitating the creation of new and innovative policy alternatives along with expression of the implications of those alternatives where that is possible.
However, concerns have been raised that most scientists, even those asked to inform policy as for example in the cases of the IPCC and MA, typically eschew explicit discussions of the significance of their scientific findings for policy.58 Seeking to be ‘policy relevant but not policy prescriptive’, scientists rarely go beyond a description of their scientific results as concerns trends, conditions and projections, do not take the next step further explaining how these findings translate into different policy alternatives, and leave the analysis of what these findings imply for policy actions to decision makers.
As a result, decision makers often find themselves dependent on in-house capacity within their secretariats to translate science into policy actions, or, if there is a lack of such capacity, on the interpretations provided by consultants or interest groups. Otherwise they might be unable to follow scientific information or advice with the implementation of meaningful policy. For example, not having gone the further step and translating the MA findings into a more relevant context for national governments has been seen as one of the reasons why it did not have the expected results in shaping policies, in particular as regards developing countries.
What is lacking are institutional arrangements within science-policy interfaces that systematically assess and communicate the significance of science for policy. Such analysis of policy, the essence of policy advice, implies the presentation of information and knowledge in terms of an honest broker of a range of policy alternativessystematically revealing how alternative policy options would appear preferable under different detailed framing assumptions and showing how these dependencies relate to the real world.59
Returning to the example of fisheries management in the European Union referred to in a previous section and discussed in more detail in Annex W, it is noted that as a result of frustration that their advice was not being followed scientists were increasingly moving away from simply being objective experts providing facts to working more closely with policymakers in approaches involving scenario-based modelling so that potential implications of decisions can be more easily understood.