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54. In each case throughout this section it is important to remember that each of the institutions and processes referred to has its own mandate and its own governance arrangements, and their working arrangements vary widely depending on both their history and the particular mandate they have. It is therefore not surprising that this quick illustration of the institutional landscape shows that existing interfaces related to biodiversity and ecosystem services vary widely in nature, for example: 95

a) From institutions that are closer to political processes such as the subsidiary bodies of scientific and technical advice or the regional intergovernmental commissions to institutions that are closer to scientific processes, such as the international research programmes of DIVERSITAS, IGBP and IHDP or organisations like ICSU, ISSC and TWAS. 95

b) From institutions that intend to ‘close down’ policy processes decreasing the range of policy alternatives by developing clear authoritative recommendation as in the case of the subsidiary bodies of scientific and technical advice, to institutions that assist in ‘opening up’ policy processes brokering a range of policy alternatives by clearly associating scientific results with a range of choices and outcomes such as some assessment processes exploring different scenarios. 95

55. Together these individual science-policy interfaces and components of science-policy interfaces form a complex and continuously evolving interface between science and policy. As a result of this huge and varied landscape, there are many different approaches and messages, partly as a result of different mandates and interests, but also perhaps because there is no single frame of reference. 95

Institutions and processes at the national level 95


56. This complex landscape of internationally operating institutions and processes is complemented by similar sorts of arrangements at the national level, although the degree of complexity varies depending on national circumstances, as does the degree to which they interact with the international institutions and processes. 95

The special case of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) 95



57. As an illustration of the workings of the science-policy interface it is worth looking more closely at the different types of arrangements used by a range of the MEA scientific advisory bodies, as is described here and in Annexes E-G. The MEAs covered are the six global biodiversity-related treaties (CBD, CITES, CMS, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), Ramsar and World Heritage, and the other two “Rio Conventions” (UNFCCC and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)). 95

58. The existing scientific advisory bodies and processes vary in quite significant ways in practice. All the biodiversity-related and Rio Conventions have formal scientific advisory bodies, with the exception of the World Heritage Convention (which draws on the advisory capacity of three independent organisations), and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (which has not yet identified a need to establish a standing scientific advisory body, and benefits from the work of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture). All of the advisory bodies report to the relevant COP, with the exception of the Ramsar STRP which reports to and is overseen by the Standing Committee. 95

59. The tasks of these scientific bodies and processes are convention-specific, with the bodies of most treaties focusing on scientific advice, while some are also expected to also make strong technical input. For example, the UNFCCC SBSTA is tasked to provide scientific advice, but also to promote the development and transfer of technologies, to conduct technical work on national communications and emission inventories, and to carry out methodological work in a range of specific areas. 95


60. The membership of the advisory bodies of MEAs is either open to all Parties (CBD, CMS, UNFCCC, UNCCD) or consists of appointed members and/or regional representatives (CITES, CMS, Ramsar). Some conventions encourage Parties to nominate experts or scientists in their delegations to the scientific bodies (national representatives at the CITES Animals and Plant Committees are primarily drawn from the national Scientific Authorities to CITES, for example), but there are no mechanisms to guarantee this will happen. The number and proportion of scientists participating in advisory bodies varies greatly between conventions and, within conventions, between one national delegation and another. 95

61. There are various ways for the scientific advisory bodies to draw on external scientific and technical information, and independent experts are frequently invited to contribute in one way or another. For example CMS and Ramsar can appoint scientific experts as members of the science advisory bodies for specific issues, and as previously mentioned the World Heritage Conventions uses the expertise of three independent organizations. For the UNFCCC, a completely independent external institution exists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which provides advice for SBSTA to consider and make available to other Convention bodies and Parties. 95

62. Several conventions make use of expert groups. For example, limited duration ad hoc technical expert groups play a particularly important part in the CBD, where they address specific issues and provide input to SBSTTA, while the UNCCD has established a Group of Experts on Combating Desertification and Mitigating the Effects of Drought and the UNFCCC an Expert Group on Technology Transfer. In a few cases expert groups are used by more than one convention, as is the case with the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds which is used by Ramsar, CMS and one of the CMS daughter agreements. 96


63. The UNCCD is the only convention that foresees in its articles the establishment of a roster of experts. The COP has faced problems in receiving information from Parties on the extent to which they have made use of the roster of experts and, through establishing the Group of Experts, has found a way to formalise the roster. The CBD established a roster of experts under SBSTTA but later discontinued its use; it was preferred to invite Parties to nominate experts for the ad hoc technical expert groups and other purposes. The UNFCCC continues to use a Roster of Experts. 96

64. In most conventions, the COP has adopted a modus operandi or terms of reference for the scientific body in order to clearly define its work and the way it provides scientific and technical advice. These modus operandi vary between the conventions in length and detail. The CMS Scientific Council has adopted its own Strategic Implementation Plan, aligned to the Strategic Plan of the Convention. Various other ways and means to improve the effectiveness of the advisory bodies have been suggested, including closer links with the scientific community and different meeting styles. For example the UNCCD has agreed to hold its future Committee on Science and Technology meetings in the form of scientific conferences led by identified institutions. 96

65. In addition the forward agendas of most of the scientific advisory bodies are known, or can be inferred from their strategic plans or work plans. 96

B.6. Potential limitations of science-policy interfaces 96

Finding #2. Notwithstanding the progress made by many of the existing science advisory bodies to improve the focus and quality of scientific inputs into policymaking processes, there is scope for further improvement in scientific independence through increased credibility, relevance and legitimacy. 96


66. In general the scientific advisory bodies and processes established by different governance bodies at whatever level have mandates and/or terms of reference that define how they work. These mandates are one of the strengths of the existing science advisory bodies just described, not least because it means that the governance bodies are likely to be listening to the advice given (even if there are other reasons why that advice is not ultimately followed). Additionally the modus operandi of the scientific advisory processes discussed above suggest that they are both expected to take account of scientific learning and experience, and have the potential to call on and involve scientists, which they all regularly do in one way or another. 96

67. As with any ongoing process it is important to regularly review and hopefully to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of scientific advisory bodies and processes, building on experience gained through practice. For example, several of the biodiversity-related treaties have initiated reviews of the effectiveness of their scientific advisory bodies. CITES established an external evaluation working group to review the scientific committees. UNCCD initiated extensive consultations on ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Committee on Science and Technology. CBD has considered suggestions for improving the workings and operations of SBSTTA on a number of occasions. Ramsar reviews the effectiveness of its STRP on an ongoing basis and has made adjustments to both membership arrangements and modus operandi in recent years. 96

68. However there are a range of recognised limitations which are common to almost the whole science-policy interface. To a large extent these occur because of the wide range of activities and relationships inherent in the complex landscape described above, and in each case the limitations could lead to mismatches, inefficiencies and duplication at all levels. These limitations are: 96

a) the need for a common and shared knowledge base, rather than the fragmented knowledge base currently available, which is addressed in Section E.1; 96

b) the need for more effective communication of policy relevant information, based on addressing clearly identified and understood needs, which is addressed in Section E.2; 96

c) the need for improved coordination across the many components of the science-policy interface, building on existing experience and activities, which is addressed in Section E.3; and 97

d) the need to build capacity at all levels to adequately address these issues both within the biodiversity sector and across sectors, which is addressed in Section E.4. 97


69. Meanwhile, two further distinct sets of challenges have been identified in reviewing these particular science advisory processes, those that are concerned with the increasing workload coupled with lack of (financial) resources and capacity, and those that are concerned with specific aspects of the processes employed. Some of the key concerns raised are discussed in the rest of this section, but it should be born in mind that these relate to the science-policy interface in general, and not just to the science advisory bodies and processes of the MEAs. 97

Capacities, budgets and agendas 97

Finding #2.1 Most science-policy interfaces have relatively modest budgets for the size of the task that they are expected to perform, potentially limiting their ability to assess knowledge comprehensively and ensure the input of the best available science, leaving them to rely on inputs from other bodies and processes that might not be best suited to their needs. 97

70. The first series of interconnecting issues which potentially result in limitations to the workings of scientific advisory bodies and processes are those concerned with their workload and resources. The challenges that can result are discussed in generic terms without specific examples, so as to avoid the potential for argument about the detail and any feeling that defensive positions need to be taken. Note that different scientific advisory bodies and processes are affected in different ways by these challenges, for some there is no problem, while for others the challenges are quite significant. 97

71. Agendas getting more crowded: In many cases more and more issues are being added to the agendas of those working at the interface between science and policy, in part because of increasing awareness of the relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to many aspects of society. This can potentially lead to: 97

a) an insufficient time for full discussion of issues at meetings; 97

b) issues not getting the level of attention that they need or deserve; and 97

c) delay in addressing issues. 97


72. Insufficient budget to prepare for issues adequately: Budgets are inevitably limited, and given the growing agendas and increasing complexity (as links to other sectors are increasingly being addressed), the budgets of most scientific advisory bodies and processes are relatively modest considering the breadth of issues they are expected to address. This can potentially lead to: 97

a) insufficient preparation for discussion unless additional resources can be found; 97

b) using what is available rather than commissioning what is required; 97

c) using whoever can deliver input at lowest cost, rather than whoever is best to do it; and 97

d) reduction in time available for consultation and peer review. 97

73. Unrealistic expectations: Depending on the issue of concern, research can take some time to complete, and in some cases scientific research over a period of time is essential (for example where aspects of change are being investigated). The scientific advisory bodies and processes can be severely challenged when they are set unrealistic timeframes for providing advice. This can potentially lead to: 97

a) insufficient preparation for discussion; and 97

b) using what is available rather than what is required. 97

74. The potential results if any of these concerns are realised are an increased risk of failure of uptake at the policy level, criticism of output and outcomes, and a dissatisfaction with the process that has led to them. This may then also lead to request for further input (which takes even more time), with concomitant delays in decision making. 97

Finding #2.2 Each science-policy interface works in a separate manner and each mechanism can bring its own limitations, such as the problems that can be encountered when an advisory body is responsible for providing scientific input to the policy process while acting as an initial negotiating platform. 98


75. The second series of issues which potentially result in limitations to the workings of scientific advisory bodies and processes are those concerned with different aspects of process. Again the challenges that can result are discussed in generic terms, and again it is important to note that different parts of the science-policy interface are affected in different ways by these challenges. 98

76. Science advice verses negotiation: Some scientific advisory bodies are charged with both providing scientific advice to their respective governance bodies, and with initial negotiation on the text of decisions. This can potentially lead to: 98

a) loss of scientific independence in the process (possibly without even realising it); and 98

b) negotiators predominating in meetings rather than scientists. 98

77. Experts and expertise: Different processes have implications for the ways in which individuals are identified and involved, and the extent to which they can (or are qualified to) contribute. In particular the following are potential limitations: 98

a) where experts are chosen for a panel, the choice of the right experts is crucial, as is the manner in which they then call on the expertise of others; 98

b) with respect to participation in meetings, whether the right people attend, and related to this how small delegations cope with the broad range of issues that can be under discussion; 98

c) whether additional experts, and expert organizations and processes, are able to contribute in an appropriate manner so as to increase the scientific input and review; and 98

d) whether sufficient and appropriate expertise is brought in from other disciplines and sectors relevant to the issues being considered. 98


78. Relationship to other processes and initiatives: Given many components of the science-policy interface address the needs of specific governance bodies and processes, and given the cross-sectoral nature of biodiversity, there are potential limitations in what can be achieved. In particular the following are potential concerns: 98

a) governance processes tending to mandate tasks independently without reference to other relevant interests and processes, which can restrict the actions of science advisory bodies; 98

b) scientific advisory bodies not taking other processes and initiatives sufficiently into account in their discussions and advice; 98

c) participants in one process being unaware of the advice given and positions taken by their direct counterparts in other processes, even when from the same government or organization; 98

d) overlapping areas of competence, where issues that are explored for possibly being addressed with respect to biodiversity are effectively blocked by decisions already taken in other sectors; and 98

e) key opportunities missed because everyone thinks it is someone else’s responsibility. 98



79. Flexibility: Depending on their mandates, terms of reference and/or modus operandi, it can be difficult for some science-policy processes to quickly react to emerging issues, something that can be compounded by other limitations identified above such as crowded agendas and limited budgets. The potential result is that key issues may be dealt with later than they should if the science-policy interface is not able to respond. 98

80. Again the potential results if any of these concerns are realised are an increased risk of failure of uptake at the policy level, criticism of output and outcomes, and a dissatisfaction with the process that has led to them. In particular this is so if the right experts and expertise are not involved in an open and transparent manner, as there is opportunity then to question both the credibility and legitimacy of the process. 98


81. But at the end of the day, however good the advice, politics can result in a decision that goes against that advice for one reason or another. The example of fisheries management in the European Union is a case in point. Despite having excellent scientists, a significant amount of research, and processes which generate officially agreed advice through the intergovernmental International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), many European fisheries are regarded by the European Commission as being unsustainable. The reasons for this are explored further in Annex W. 98

B.7. Analysis of the Science-Policy Interface 99



82. The analysis of the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services addresses in turn each of the main functional components of a science-policy interface identified in the previous section: building a common and shared knowledge base which effectively supports policy; effectively informing policy and other relevant stakeholders; providing the fundamental capacity to enable full engagement in the science-policy interface, and increasing synergy and coherence through coordination of the many different actors, activities and issues. 99

83. The first two of these functional aspects, building a common and shared knowledge base and effectively informing policy, are really part of a single continuum of producing knowledge and effectively communicating it, but they are here considered separately in order to clarify the different roles they play and the issues concerned. Meanwhile the other two function aspects, providing fundamental capacity and coordination, are the most essential cross-cutting functional aspects of a science-policy interface. Although they are inherently part of all other functional components, due to their crucial importance each of these cross-cutting aspects are also addressed separately. 99

B.8. Building a common knowledge base 99


84. 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. 99

85. 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. 99

86. Those elements considered essential for a knowledge base on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and which are analyzed in more detail below, include: 99

a) basic knowledge needs; 99

b) processes for the incorporation of different types knowledge; 99

c) guidance on research strategies and long-term observation and monitoring systems; 99

d) availability and accessibility to data and information; 99

87. 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. 99


B.8.1 Basic knowledge needs and guidance on research strategies 99

Basic knowledge needs 99



88. 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, and in particular the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) triggered a range of innovations and advances in the field. However, significant gaps in knowledge remain. 99

89. The recent report by a high-level multidisciplinary group of experts led by ICSU, UNESCO and UNU, 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 identified 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: 100

a) 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. 100




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