Finding #4.3. In discussions on science-policy interfaces there is far more focus on identifying issues and formulating policies with regard to multilateral environmental agreements at the global level than on supporting policy implementation and policy evaluation, particularly at the national and regional levels of governance, and on the extent to which effective information and advice pertains to and is used by the development community at the lower governance levels.
As stated earlier, there are essentially four different areas or phases of policy to which science can contribute and which science-policy interfaces should take into account - issue identification, policy formulation, policy implementation, and policy evaluation. There is a strong tendency for scientific advisory bodies and processes at the international level to focus on issue identification and policy formulation, which takes place at the global level of governance, to the detriment of providing knowledge support to policy implementation and evaluation, which is mostly an issue to national and regional levels of governance.
This lesser focus on policy implementation and evaluation has the potential to considerably impede biodiversity and ecosystem service governance. For example:
Lack of knowledge and practice on ecosystem-based management, lack of economic incentive measures, and lack of support in mainstreaming biodiversity into other sectors were mentioned among the key challenges impeding on the implementation of the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), the CBD’s most important means to allow for national self-expression and key instrument for implementation (see Annex U).60
The fact that the MA did not go beyond the presentation of general findings relevant to global governance and take the next step in terms of helping countries with taking and using these findings, and to design policies at their respective scale and context, has been identified as one of the reasons for why the MA has been limited in impact.
In the case of biodiversity and ecosystem services, most actions will have to be taken at the local level and are not dependent upon coordinated global action,61 a predominant focus on issue identification and policy formulation, and the relative neglect of focus on policy implementation and evaluation at national level inherent in much of the international science-policy interface, constitutes a critical gap of the current science-policy interface.
In trying to make a difference, certain initiatives interfacing science and policy, such as the MA follow-up strategy, have prioritized the focus on sub-global levels of governance, for example with the development of tools and mechanisms that facilitate the interpretation of scientific findings in terms of their significance for policy. Others, like the TEEB, are making a considerable effort to provide knowledge and advice on how best to mainstream biodiversity issues into other sectors. However, these efforts are only limited in scope and time, and no institutional arrangements exist that would ensure more continuous support to policy implementation and evaluation and to mainstreaming biodiversity.
Having said this it is not the case that there should be a total change of focus to these issues, but that it is necessary to ensure that efforts of issue identification, policy formulation, implementation and evaluation are well orchestrated within an integrative processes that reaches across all relevant scales and sectors.
Models, scenarios and indicators
Finding #4.4. There is a need for more integrated quantitative models, scenarios and indicators that will aid understanding of not only biodiversity and ecosystem services, but also the relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to human well-being.
Models, scenarios and indicators are increasingly being used as means of bringing data and information together from a range of different sources, and presenting them meaningfully in such a way as to inform policy processes. For example scenarios are extensively used in assessments such as the MA or GEO to present the implications of different policy approaches, and indicators are increasingly used for tracking progress in achieving targets adopted by policy processes.
Integrated models of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services
A model is essentially a simplified representation of how a system works, developed so as to improve understanding of the system itself, and to aid understanding of how different factors affect the behaviour of the system. Models of coupled social-ecological ecosystems are essential for research, synthesis and projection of management actions. Models can be useful tools to help provide decision makers with an understanding of likely impacts the implementation of policies might have, and can provide the basis for reviewing different options and scenarios.
A wide range of processes, actors, organisations, networks and products are currently involved in assessing biodiversity impacts using models and scenarios. These range from response to the ad hoc requests of specific assessment processes, to models developed by groups of organizations (e.g. InVEST by the University of Stanford and others; GLOBIO developed by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency working in collaboration with UNEP-WCMC and GRID Arendal). Currently the most widely used model of biodiversity at the science-policy interface is GLOBIO, which is based on response relationships between species abundance and five anthropogenic pressures.
In a recent report on biodiversity scenarios commissioned by the CBD Secretariat for input to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 and prepared under the leadership of DIVERSITAS62, the authors reviewed the projections of a range of models and associated scenarios. The report drew on the experience of six lead authors and 33 contributing authors from 17 countries across the world. As part of the report the authors addressed the future needs for biodiversity and ecosystem service modelling, identifying in particular that:
currently separate models for terrestrial, freshwater and marine biomes need to be fully integrated to take account of interactions and feedbacks among biomes;
models need to include feedbacks and interactions among the complex chains linking biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem services to socio-economic processes, and aid in understanding of “tipping points”;
a framework for linking biodiversity and ecosystem services to human well-being needs to be developed and incorporated in models;
there is the need to develop models that can map the flow of a range of ecosystem services so that the spatial disconnect between where services are produced and where people benefit is better addressed;
a new conceptual basis, based on risk or probability approaches, might be needed to model regulating and supporting ecosystem services;
models need to realistically incorporate multiple drivers to better represent global change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services;
models need to incorporate dynamics and be process-based instead of the currently available statistical, deterministic models;
models should be evaluated to assess their capabilities and limitations, not least because they are complex systems with many components;
models need further testing through systematic comparison of outputs generated by different models and by multiple simulations with the same model for past, present and future conditions; and
the ability of models to simulate past and present situations needs to be tested against data on past and current biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Meanwhile, in a report on scenarios and models for exploring future trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services changes commissioned by the European Commission, the authors63 reviewed in detail 41 models identified through literature and internet search, and personal knowledge. Comparative information on these models is included in the project report, and information on the models was further analysed and summarised with respect to a number of characteristics. Preliminary conclusions include the following with respect to ecosystem services and human well being in particular:
there is no single model covering socio-economic development, policy input, environmental and land use change, and biodiversity and ecosystem services for terrestrial and aquatic systems together;
multi-model combinations are needed to generate comprehensive and consistent results, with economic as well as biophysical modelling of water and plant growth, and natural and agricultural systems. the availability of data for different ecosystems is a significant constraint on ecosystem service modelling, as they are generally scarce and on a very coarse scale;
little is known about critical thresholds/ time lags between biophysical effects and ecosystem service impacts and recovery potential, and consequently these issues/processes are not addressed in models;
there is a challenge in incorporating human managed lands, including various management options, as compared to natural systems;
models often omit feedback between environmental condition and socio-economic development, making it impossible to estimate the benefits of measures to maintain ecosystem services; and
none of the models cover biodiversity risks and likely associated losses of ecosystem services resulting from invasive alien species with the exception of climate change induced biome changes.
In addition they concluded that global models cannot practically include the small-scale heterogeneity of a landscape that is necessary for drawing conclusions on pollination and pest-control effects, and regional models have the advantage that they can account for relevant aspects of global economics and policies, and developments like climate change while they also relate to local processes and conditions. Also models with a smaller geographic coverage offer the possibility of including much more meaningful management and policy options. Sufficient detail is not available at the global scale and effects of options and policies can only be estimated by crude proxies and general parameter estimates.
These findings are highly consistent with those that arose from experience with the MA64 where it was observed that “explicit models of coupled social–ecological systems were essential for research, synthesis, and projection of the consequences of management actions”. The authors went on to recommend that a key research need was to improve quantitative modelling across a range of social–ecological topics, noting in particular that:
integrated, quantitative models of social–ecological systems do not match the scope of existing conceptual and qualitative models;
existing ecosystem service models were developed to address particular sectors (e.g. water supply, agriculture, fisheries) or particular intersections of issues (e.g., biodiversity and land use change);
models for sectors must be coupled with projections from other models of climate, demography, macroeconomic development, and other drivers to assess or project ecosystem services;
it would be far better to have models that correspond in scope and content to the conceptual frameworks used by the MA or future assessments; and
this model development should be done in a research setting, not under the stringent time constraints of an assessment.
Other reviews have come to similar conclusions.65 Between them these reviews provide a comprehensive assessment of areas in which models need to be improved in order to increase their value in supporting decision-making processes. Comparative information on the models is provided in the referenced reports, which will all be publicly available by the last quarter of 2009.
The role of scenarios in demonstrating possible futures
Scenarios are plausible and often simplified descriptions of how the future may develop, based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces and relationships, typically developed through the joint involvement of decision-makers and scientific experts66 (). Scenarios are used as a means of presenting anticipated outcomes of different types of policy action so as to assist policy-makers in making choices, or at least helping them to understanding the potential implications of different decisions. Scenarios are informed by scientific research and opinion, and are increasingly used as a means of presenting the outcomes of research meaningfully. They do not attempt to predict the future but instead are designed to indicate what science can and cannot say about the future consequences of alternative plausible choices that might be taken in the coming years (MA 2005 as above). They help to address uncertainty in complex systems.
Scenarios may be classified into three different types67, which can be characterised as:
baseline trend scenarios (predictive scenarios), which assume that current trends will continue in the future, and may include policy variants based on near-future decision alternatives;
normative scenarios (pathway or vision scenarios), which describe a desirable future or set a specific goal for the future and explore possible ways to reach that goal; and
explorative scenarios (forecasting or descriptive scenarios), which work the other way around, and are created to forecast the effect of specified measures (policies) on future development and conditions.
In an ongoing review of scenarios and models for exploring future trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services changes commissioned by the European Commission, due to be published shortly, the authors68 reviewed a wide range of scenarios. Comparative information on these scenarios is included in the project report, and information on the scenarios was further analysed and summarised with respect to a number of characteristics. Preliminary conclusions include the following:
the most appropriate or useful scenario approach depends on the questions to be addressed, and therefore these need to be carefully thought through and documented before trying to use a scenario approach;
current scenario approaches do not adequately distinguish between different types of land management, although management types are expected to have important consequences for the delivery of ecosystem services within human-managed land;
while for most models climate change and land use change were found to be the key input variables, the description of scenarios focuses on drivers such as technological development, human population development, economics including trade and policies, therefore there is at present a potential disconnect; and
socio-economic models are necessary to translate the scenario drivers to the pressures, however, deriving quantitative input variables from primarily narrative scenarios is a crucial task and the process is often not well documented.
These preliminary conclusions, together with those for models identified in the previous section, suggest the need for further elaboration of a range of the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services on one hand and socio-economic issues on the other, built on a more robust understanding of the interrelationships. This will potentially increase the value of scenarios in helping to use science in a manner that better supports the decision making processes through illustration of the implications of policy alternatives.
Comparative information on currently used scenarios is provided in the referenced report, which will all be publicly available by the last quarter of 2009.
Indicators of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services
Indicators are increasingly being used to inform policy processes, whether as part of assessment processes, or independently. This is closely related to the increased use of quantitative targets in setting policy, and the use of indicators to assess progress in meeting those targets, as well as more widely in communicating biodiversity concerns through the media (for example on threatened species).
Many of the international policy processes have established strategic plans and work programmes with targets relating to biodiversity, and these require appropriate indicators to track progress in their achievement. For example the table in Annex L identifies the indicator processes being used for each of the global biodiversity-related treaties, and the action under way, as well as for a number of other global and regional processes.
Particularly noteworthy are the efforts made in the context of assessing progress in achieving the CBD target of significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Following adoption of the target in 2002 (decision VI/26), the CBD Secretariat worked with a number of organizations to discuss the need for indicators, and these were further elaborated by SBSTTA working with an Ad hoc Technical Expert Group. CBD COP called on UNEP-WCMC to support the CBD Secretariat in reporting on progress, and this led to the formation of the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (2010BIP).69
The 2010BIP is a collaboration between the many organizations and agencies developing global biodiversity indicators. Funded in part by the GEF and in part by the organizations and agencies themselves, the objectives of the partnership are to facilitate and promote: generation of information on biodiversity trends which is useful to decision makers; improved global biodiversity indicators; better links with biodiversity initiatives at the regional and national levels to enable capacity building and improve the delivery of the biodiversity indicators.
As is apparent from Annex L most of the global biodiversity-related agreements are now developing indicators of some form so as to better demonstrate progress in achieving their objectives. Several of the secretariats participate in the 2010BIP, and conscious efforts are being made to collaborate wherever possible and appropriate both in development of indicators, and delivery of messages based on the indicators. The table in Annex P illustrates, for example, how the Ramsar Convention’s proposed indicators relate to the CBD framework, and to some of the other indicators.
One region has made a concerted effort to develop indicators that are consistent with the CBD framework, and are relevant and useful at both national and regional levels The project on Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI2010) involves a wide range of organizations and individuals across Europe in reviewing potential indicators, and in developing guidance on using them (see Annex M) for a brief description of the project and associated reports). Recently, as is reported in Annex M, a working group has been reviewing use of the indicators and made a number of recommendations on their use, and on future development of an improved indicator package.
The use of indicators is also increasing at the national level as countries appreciate their value in assessing and managing progress in meeting their own biodiversity targets. There are two sets of observations on this in Annex N, part based on observations from experiences in carrying out regional workshops on indicators in a range of developing countries, the other based on a review of comments in the CBD National Reports. From both is clear the urgent need to improve the use of indicators at the national level, and to improve the data on which both national and internationally used indicators are based.
In July 2009, UNEP-WCMC convened an international expert workshop with the CBD Secretariat and the support of the UK Government to review the use and effectiveness of the 2010 biodiversity indicators, and to consider implications for development of the post-2010 targets and indicators. Results of this workshop, including identification of lessons learnt and key recommendations, are included in Annex O. Discussion at the workshop focused on four key areas: sufficiency of the current 2010 biodiversity indicator set; its scientific rigour; the policy relevance of the indicators; and their effective communication.
It is clear from these discussions, and from the observations and recommendations arising, that indicators are seen as a valuable means of presenting data in formats that are meaningful to policy. Ideally, the set of indicators would be broad enough to address the range of biodiversity issues, small enough to be manageable, and simple enough to be applied consistently and affordably in different regions over long periods of time. At the same time countries need indicators that meet their own needs, while contributing to the global picture. In summary the key messages from the Reading meeting were that the following were needed:
a few head-line indicators clearly linked to the targets being addressed, based on a set of sub-indicators which can also be used in communicating meaningful storylines and clear, policy relevant messages;
a clearly expressed conceptual framework for the indicators which aids understanding of the links between threats to biodiversity, its state of biodiversity, ecosystem services, human well-being, and policy responses;
further indicators on threats to biodiversity, status of species diversity, ecosystem extent and condition, ecosystem services and policy responses, more clearly relating biodiversity to benefits for people;
improved national capacity for framework application, indicator development, data collection and information management, so as to improve national use of indicators and support international needs;
a clear strategy for using indicators in informing policy discussions, delivering multiple messages into all sectors, and demonstrating relevance of biodiversity to human wellbeing.70
The recommendations of the Reading meeting help to identify some of the key issues, but it is essential that the research and policy communities work together to continue to design a set of appropriate indicators, to implement the sustained monitoring programmes that are needed to ensure the availability of data and indicators for the long run, to develop appropriate communications strategies to ensure the indicators are used well, and to facilitate improved use of indicators at the national level.
A particular challenge will be in developing those indicators that aid understanding of the essential links between biodiversity and human livelihoods and wellbeing. With an increase in consideration of ecosystem services in public and private decision-making at different scales, it is apparent that indicator frameworks, as used in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the CBD and elsewhere, are under-developed with regard to ecosystem services. Tracking conventional biodiversity indicators alone is insufficient, and indicators will also need to be found which can demonstrate how the benefits from biodiversity and naturally functioning ecosystems are changing over time so that the policy relevance of biodiversity can be more clearly understood. Challenges that will need to be addressed include the fact that:
for most ecosystem services there are currently few if any suitable indicators for monitoring the actual delivery of services;
the indicators required will need to communicate policy relevant information readily about a complex issue of not only the status and trends of ecosystem services, but also flows;
there is limited or no data available for ecosystem service indicators; and
not all ecosystem services are quantifiable (for example the aesthetic benefits people receive from ecosystems differ greatly between people and are dependent on a number of different factors, for which a value or number cannot easily be assigned).