Finding #4.5. Notwithstanding the range of assessments relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services, no regular periodic multi-level assessment process exists that provides the conceptual and institutional framework coherently to gather, review, synthesize, communicate and monitor information and track changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services and their consequences for human well-being at the global, regional and national levels and on the interrelation across these levels.
Assessments are formal efforts to gather, review and synthesize selected knowledge with a view toward making it publicly available in a form useful for decision making. In the recent years, scientific environmental assessments have grown in number, have become more comprehensive and systematic and have become the science-policy element most attention has been given to.
During the last decade, there has been a proliferation of assessments relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services, at global and sub-global scales. Key amongst recent global assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services have been the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the 4th Global Environment Outlook (GEO4), the IPCC 4th assessment report (AR4), the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CAWMA), the 2nd Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO2), the 2005 Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), and the global Assessment of Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change. Each of these is described briefly in Annex Q.
Over time the global assessments have increasingly aimed to be more integrated in the manner in which biodiversity and ecosystems services issues are assessed, and they have increasingly been designed to be relevant, credible and legitimate. However, they vary considerably in thematic focus and scope, in their design and processes, and in the ways in which biodiversity and ecosystem services are integrated. For example:
The thematic focus of recent global assessments varies between those focusing strictly on biodiversity assessment, such as the GBO or IUCN Red List assessments, those encompassing a broad ecosystem service assessment, such as the MA and GEO, and those focusing on a narrower range of specific ecosystem services, such as FRA, GIWA, IAASTD, LADA.
There have also been an increasing number of sub-global assessments conducted and planned in the last decade, at scales from continental to local communities. The MA, GIWA, GEO4 and IAASTD explicitly included sub-global (in most cases regional, and in the case of the MA some multi-scale) assessment elements.
Most recent and ongoing assessments evaluate both environmental and socio-economic factors. Only one of the ongoing global assessments, the GBO, additionally evaluates the implementation of a specific corresponding policy mechanism (the CBD) for its impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Some, such as the MA, GIWA and TEEB, were designed as one-off assessments that could be repeated in the future should the demand and resources exist. Others, such as GEO, GBO, IPCC, and FRA, are part of ongoing assessment initiatives (see Annex Q).
Some, such as the MA, the IPCC and GEO, involve a broad spectrum of the scientific community, whilst others, such as the GBO, FRA and TEEB, are based on contributions from a more selective group of experts (see Annex Q). Also the breadth of stated target audiences varies considerably between assessments.
A number of recent global assessments, such as GEO4, and the IPCC 4th assessment, have been overseen by intergovernmental governance bodies, providing significant legitimacy for their findings amongst national governments. In the case of the MA and IAASTD, the assessments were overseen by a multi-stakeholder board, including governmental, non-governmental and private sector stakeholders.
However, despite all these advances in assessment efforts related to biodiversity and ecosystem services, there remain a range of gaps and obstacles significantly impeding the science-policy interface’s ability to coherently gather, review, synthesize and communicate information on biodiversity and ecosystem services at global, regional and national level:
Many assessment initiatives have been limited by data and information availability. This is the case at all geographic scales for a range of ecosystem services and for biodiversity. Gaps in data for biodiversity and non-provisioning ecosystem services are particularly widespread, and in many cases prevent more comprehensive assessment being completed at global, regional, national or local scales.
In terms of scope and coverage of ecosystems considered by biodiversity and ecosystem services assessments, there has been relatively less assessment focussed in some key biomes and system types, including islands, mountains, wetlands and urban systems. Relatively less attention has also been given to regulating and supporting services (such as prevention of flooding or nutrient cycling), and there remain key gaps in assessing the interlinkages between biodiversity and climate change (such as the link between biodiversity and carbon sequestration).
There remains relatively little coherence or coordination between approaches to assessment within and between scales and thematic approaches and there is a lack of core set of common, scaleable variables for better linking assessments at different geographic scales, and with different but related thematic foci. Even those assessments that are well networked within the MA follow-up process make use of a wide variety of data and indicators within a diversity of thematic scope and geographical coverage, which complicates the synthesis of lessons across assessment initiatives, and hampers the process of drawing conclusions relating to multi-scale aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
There is a wide variety of and little coherence within conceptual frameworks used for assessment design and implementation, although at a global scale for recent integrated assessments, and in many regional and national assessments, there has been an increasing convergence on variations of the framework developed in the MA global and sub-global assessments (an ecosystem services and human well-being focused variation of the DPSIR framework).
Only very few recent assessments, including the MA, IPCC, LADA and GBO, have been explicitly endorsed by those MEAs that they seek to inform. Of the assessments explicitly endorsed or otherwise officially recognized by MEAs, only the IPCC and GBO are anticipated to be repeated in the future - the remainder were conceived as one-off initiatives. Other assessments, such as GEO and GIWA have been endorsed by other decision-making, or intergovernmental fora such as the UNEP Governing Council.
Ongoing initiatives, such as the MA follow-up process in general (see Annex B) and the forthcoming publication of the MA methodology manual in particular, are likely to help considerably in bringing coherence to assessment process and design in the future. However, there remains the need for a common conceptual and institutional framework to coherently assess information on biodiversity and ecosystem services across all relevant sectors and at global, regional and national levels.
Over the recent years there has been an extensive process to review assessments in marine environments, in anticipation of a Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the state of the Marine Environment (See Annex C. Drawing from a this broad analysis of assessments, those elements that are said to most successfully lead to an effective assessment include:
a holistic conceptual framework that considers the multiple and interacting pressures on biodiversity and ecosystems at and across all scales;
regular review of assessment product to support adaptive management;
use of rigorous science and the promotion of scientific excellence;
regular and proactive analysis to ensure that emerging issues, significant changes and knowledge gaps are detected at an early stage;
continuous improvement in scientific and assessment capacity;
effective links with policy makers and other users, reflected in communication, products and formal recognition and endorsement by official policy processes;
inclusiveness with respect to communication and engagement with all stakeholders through appropriate means for their participation; and
transparency and accountability for the process and products.
Early warning of emerging issues of concern
Finding #4.6. There are continuing difficulties in ensuring timely scientific advice on emerging issues of concern at and across all levels, whether in response to policymakers’ requests or resulting from concerns arising from the scientific community.
New issues for biodiversity can arise from a diversity of sources including as a result of scientific research or monitoring (e.g. the discovery of the impact of a new invasive species) or an emerging issue in the policy arena. New issues can also arise from developments in other sectors that might be important for biodiversity, such as the potential impacts of economic trends, and emerging markets.
It is widely known that the global community has responded too late to many environmental problems and hazards. A key feature in this has been the length of gap between problems being identified in science and a response being taken. Though adequate information may be available, information might not have been brought to the attention of appropriate decision-makers early enough, or has been discounted for one reason or another. Sometimes ‘loud and late’ warnings (e.g. on asbestos, the Great Lakes, sulphur dioxide and acidification) have been effectively ignored by decision-makers because of short-term economic and political interactions.71 Costs of such inaction have been most recently highlighted by the Stern report on climate change.72
There is a growing number of initiatives that help to prioritise issues and to explore the likely significance and relevance of emerging issues relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services. Providing they are firmly based on the common knowledge base and adequately linked to decision-making processes, such initiatives provide a valuable tool in informing development of policy in identifying issues that need to be addressed, in helping assess the likely significant of emerging issues and in helping to prioritize both research priorities and policy actions. Important tools of science-policy interfaces for dealing with emerging issues of concern are: 73horizon scanning processes, which involve the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments which are at the margins of current thinking and planning (potentially including the use of scenarios), and futures techniques, by which the results of horizon scanning exercises are further explored.
Examples of such processes widely range in scope and in the extent to which they have specific links to policy processes, and are described further in Annex R). At the same time a number of MEAs have taken steps to improve the effectiveness of their assessment of and response to emerging policy issues (e.g. by Ramsar’s STRP and the CBD SBSTTA), so that their scientific advisory bodies and processes can more effectively deal with new issues not previously on their agendas.
However, there remain significant challenges for processes interfacing science and policy in addressing emerging issues, which are often of complex, contentious or controversial nature:
Whilst some initiatives offer an independent and highly creative exploration of futures, the usefulness of such initiatives can be limited if they do not adequately communicate and link with decision making processes, if they present mixed messages, or do not answer the more urgent questions that policy makers may have – potentially reducing impact and therefore the attention the results receive.
Where such horizon scanning and futures processes are introduced into scientific advisory bodies and processes, care must be taken to ensure that they are not only relevant to the process, but that they are also the result of legitimate and transparent processes so that they are seen as being credible in the sense defined earlier (including issues such as independence and peer review).
Only very few ongoing mandated assessment processes provide flexible mechanisms to respond to demands from MEAs for targeted or rapid integrated assessments on emerging issues relating to biodiversity and the full spectrum of ecosystem services; on the contrary, the long time-scale periodicity of global assessments can preclude responding to many emerging issues in a timely manner to guide decision-making, even for those selected issues which are covered by such assessments.
Among the key gaps apparent from a review of current horizon scanning processes and futures techniques are the following. The implication of not addressing such gaps is a reduced preparedness for issues that might arise in the future. The key gaps are:
Conceptual approach: The lack of widely applicable and broadly accepted conceptual and institutional frameworks for horizon scanning and futures techniques that are responsive to the needs of decision makers and concerns of knowledge holders, are credible as regards their implementation, and are legitimately linked to policy processes.
Sharing of experience and results: The need for wider sharing of knowledge and experience on horizon scanning and futures techniques, by those countries and organizations that have fairly well-established mechanisms for identifying and assessing new issues for biodiversity and are producing useful outputs that international mechanisms could draw on.
Capacity: The lack of capacity at national level, in particular in developing countries, to conduct horizon scanning processes and apply futures techniques to assist in their own planning processes.
It is also important to ensure that when new issues emerge the scientific community is able to respond rapidly to information of scientific advisory bodies and processes rising from these emerging issues, so that they are better able to inform policy development and decision making.
There may also be value in exploring the potential for increased coordination between existing horizon scanning and futures initiatives supporting biodiversity science-policy processes, and for coordination in use of the outcomes of these processes. This is true across the range of scales and sectors.
In addition to improving the use of horizon scanning and futures techniques in identifying potential future issues, it is important to also ensure that scientific advisory bodies and processes are able to effectively use this information in their deliberations. This may involve changing their terms of reference, as happened for CBD SBSTTA in 2006 (decision VIII/10).
Increasing Synergies and Effectiveness Through Coordination
Finding #5. Notwithstanding the existence of several mechanisms to improve the coordination of the wide range of science policy interfaces for the many multilateral environmental agreements and other bodies related to biodiversity and ecosystem services, there is significant room for building on the existing experiences that would lead to better coordination between and across global and national mechanisms.
It is apparent from earlier sections in this analysis that there is a wide range of institutions, processes, networks and programmes at all levels and within different sectors that address, or are relevant to, one or other part of the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
This fragmentation is in part structural and to a certain degree unavoidable, as the issues are far reaching, cross-cutting and multi-scale, while institutions have to focus on specific missions to ensure some degree of effectiveness and efficiency.74 Indeed, studies have shown that it is often collaborative networks of a range of science-policy interfaces of different institutional types, functions and focus with complex, partly redundant, and layered institutional arrangements that constitute the most effective way in managing complex interrelations between science and politics.75
But the fragmentation is also historical, as institutions have been created step by step to address problems as they have emerged. Particularly in the case of the issues of biodiversity and ecosystem services this has resulted in an array of conventions, institutions, networks and programmes with overlapping remits, differing objectives, interests and modus operandi, and often poorly defined boundaries between them. This in turn results in the potential for uncoordinated action, gaps, unnecessary duplication, and for a multitude of different messages and solutions, unless there is good coordination.
Coordination76 - or promoting and facilitating improved coordination - is a crucial cross-cutting and inherent aspect of the science-policy interface. There exists a wide range of mechanisms established to improve coordination of different parts of this fragmented institutional landscape, and a range of examples are included in the following text and associated annexes. However, while in part advances have been made, lack of coherence remains in many areas, with the resulting potential for gaps, mismatches, duplications and missed opportunities.
One potential solution is to attempt to establish improved coordination across all aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem services, thereby ensuring significantly support for decision making. While such a solution may be desirable, a more pragmatic solution, at least in the first instance, will be to gradually improve and build on existing coordination approaches, examples of which are described in the following sections.
While the following text primarily uses examples from the international level, the messages are relevant at all levels.
Coordination within and across functional elements of a science-policy interface
Finding #5.1. There is significant potential to improve the effectiveness of science policy interfaces through more coherent coordination within and across their various functions, integrating such aspects as research strategies, models and scenarios, assessments, knowledge brokering and capacity-building.
Given the inextricable interrelations between research, monitoring, models and scenarios, assessments capacity building and policy development on the one hand, and the partly inherent functional fragmentation of the institutional landscape on the other, coordination is not only fundamental within but also across each of the functional categories (or areas of work) of the science-policy interface.77
In each of the sections on the knowledge base, on communication of science into policy making, and on capacity building, and on the specific subsections within them, a range of organizations and/or programmes has been referred to. It is axiomatic that improved coordination between them will improve efficiency:
Coordination amongst those responsible for building the common knowledge base, and between them and those wanting to use the knowledge base, helps to ensure a more relevant, more credible and more legitimate knowledge base, more efficiently produced with fewer gaps and duplications.
Coordination amongst those drawing on the knowledge base and informing policy helps to ensure that a more consistent use is made of science in informing policy (including speaking with one voice), and a more coordinated approach to identifying the implications of different options.
Coordination amongst those helping to build capacity, whether by developing tools and standards, or by facilitation and training, inevitably leads to a more efficient use of resources in building capacity, and hopefully also to a more consistent and integrated approach to using science in development and implementation of policy.
There are good examples of ongoing efforts that address the coordination of a range of the different functional aspects of the science-policy interface, among the most relevant of which are the MA and the MA follow-up process (Annex B), and the proposals for the Regular Process in the marine environment (Annex C). These addressed and continue to address all the aspects of a science-policy interface in that within a specified policy area they provided a knowledge base, policy oriented products based on that knowledge base, and capacity building to help others augment the knowledge base and derive further products.
There are other examples of organizations, programmes or networks that de facto coordinate activities that contribute to the science-policy interface, therefore contributing to improving its effectiveness.
Indicators: The 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership is providing a degree of coordination across those organizations working on biodiversity indicators, bringing together UN initiatives, MEAs, IGOs, international active NGOs and university scientists.
Long term research: The International Long Term Ecological Research network is promoting and facilitating site-based research and monitoring programmes, drawing on the experience of research sites and networks in a wide range of member countries, and the scientists that work there.
Access to data: The GEO Biodiversity Observation Network and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility are both working with a wide range of organizations to facilitate increased access to biodiversity data so that it can be more easily used.
Research policy: Policy research platforms such as the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy provide fora at which natural and social scientists, policy-makers and other stakeholders identify structure and focus the strategically important research for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
These are not the only examples, and not necessarily the best examples, but in each case there is an organization or a group organizations that is working together through a network, partnership or collaborative effort to improve the current situation, to reduce gaps, and to reduce duplication of effort. This is experience that can be built upon in fostering and creating opportunities for increased coordination.
At a higher level within the biodiversity-related MEAs, there are ongoing efforts to increase coordination and sharing of experience that address in part the coordination of the different functional aspects of the science-policy interface (although the science-policy interface is not necessarily their primary focus). Among the most relevant are the following, which are described in more detail in Annex I):
Biodiversity Liaison Group (BLG): The purpose of the BLG, which consists of the heads of the secretariats of the global biodiversity-related agreements, is to enhance coherence and cooperation in the implementation of those conventions in general. In summary, the BLG has addressed a small number of items related to the conventions’ use of science, such as the 2010 biodiversity target and the related 2010 biodiversity indicators, and the use of standardized species nomenclature and taxonomy. It has also discussed possible ways for all participating MEAs to contribute to related activities, such as the Global Biodiversity Outlook. It has therefore provided some of the impetus for ensuring a more coordinated approach to issues where there are strong scientific interests, and could potentially so more in the future.
Meetings of the Chairs of the Scientific Advisory Bodies of Biodiversity-related Conventions: These can be seen as complementary to those of the BLG, from which they have been mandated. The first meeting in 2007 and was attended by representatives of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), IUCN, UNFCCC, UNEP, the GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, and WWF International in addition to representatives of CBD, CITES, CMS, Ramsar Convention and World Heritage Convention. These meetings provide a forum for initiating discussion on areas of cooperation and collaboration on the scientific issues of the various convention processes and their translation into policy. The meetings so far have identified a small number of issues where the biodiversity-related conventions could cooperate in improving the scientific advice to their bodies and to Parties, including mapping the guidance developed by the individual conventions and coordination in the requests for scientific advice on various topics.
Most of the initiatives described demonstrate the potential of increased coordination, and examples of approaches and structures that can be built upon.