Horizon scanning can be defined as “the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments which are at the margins of current thinking and planning”146. It can be used as the first stage in a futures or foresight approach, where horizon scanning identifies emerging issues and trends that can then be explored in detail using a diversity of futures techniques. Such approaches are best developed in the business sector for analysis of future markets, strategic planning and risk management, but have been increasingly used by governments, particularly in response to international security and health concerns. The environment, including biodiversity, has increasingly featured in such exercises with recognition that environmental degradation will have a significant impact on future development, security and the economy. In turn, a number of programmes have emerged to assess the potential impacts of future social, economic and environmental trends on biodiversity.
The horizon scanning process
A useful generic framework for horizon scanning is proposed by the SKEP (Scientific Knowledge for Environmental Protection) ERA-Net project, based on their review of environmental horizon scanning across EU member states147. This presents a process with three main elements:
Gathering knowledge: a first step that generates a large volume of information on future issues and trends from a wide range of sources e.g. science and technology publications; conference proceedings, patent applications; media sources; policy and political developments; and individual testimonies from experts, activists, analysts, politicians, business leaders and lay people. This information can be gathered with broad literature and internet reviews; and by stakeholder engagement through interviews and workshops.
Organizing knowledge: developing scenarios, sorting issues for their likely importance and prioritising issues for further exploration. This tends to involve the use of criteria that ‘rank’ issues on likely importance, and consultative process with stakeholders.
Using the outputs: e.g. to inform research strategies, design policies or to initiate and inform dialogue with stakeholders.
The SKEP review stresses the need for adequate stakeholder engagement in each stage of this process to gather knowledge from all relevant sources; confront different perspectives; make planning procedures more legitimate and democratic and ensure stakeholders are committed to implementation. This is particularly important where issues are highly contentious or there is a high degree of uncertainty. This will require adequate participation of all stakeholders including researchers, policy makers and the public.
Futures techniques and initiatives
In addition to scenarios, which are discussed elsewhere in this gap analysis, a wide range of futures techniques can be used to explore issues raised through horizon scanning, ranging from the simple workshop-based techniques, to the highly sophisticated. Examples are provided in the following table as illustrations of some of the most relevant initiatives.
A number of countries have established national horizon scanning or foresight initiatives that cover sustainable development and environment issues, including biodiversity (some examples are included in the table). These have not been reviewed comprehensively but are likely to provide important sources of information that could be integrated into international assessments.
Finally, even a quick literature review reveals significant published research concerned with future trends and scenarios for biodiversity - including those linked to one or to multiple drivers of biodiversity loss such as agriculture, land use change, climate change, energy scenarios etc. Without more extensive review it is not possible to know how involved policy makers have been in this research or the uptake of such research in policy making.
Examples of futures initiatives
Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group
Mapping future trends and interventions for biodiversity policy over the next 10 years.
On 15 May 2008 ABCG organised a meeting on Mapping future trends and interventions for Biodiversity conservation in Africa over the next 10 years supported by the USAID/Africa Programme148. The meeting sought to identify the drivers of past, present and future change in biodiversity in Africa, map trends and identify predictable trends and key uncertainties. This meeting was followed by a workshop on The Future of Biodiversity in Africa (September 2008) where African conservation leaders were engaged in narrating alternative futures for biodiversity in Africa and interventions appropriate for USAID and other stakeholders into the future. This exercise produced a shared vision statement and highlighted key necessary interventions for biodiversity. This was used by African partners and by US AID and other donors in their biodiversity programming.
Vision for biodiversity and reports
Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment
German non-profit research institute. Addresses a range of sustainable development issues.
Future of Sustainability
This is an international consultative process aiming to develop a new sustainability vision and strategy relevant to the global challenges of the 21st century such as climate change, peak oil, continuing loss of biodiversity, poverty and unsustainable production and consumption. It aims to engage leading thinkers and institutions from around the world at global and regional level, and from different constituencies including conservation and environment leaders; government representatives; economists; the social justice community; business leaders; and young people. It is employing traditional discussion forums as well as Web2 and mobile phone technologies to generate and share new concepts. The ideas generated by the initiative will help inform the long-term direction and strategy of IUCN.
Future Scenarios for New Zealand Biodiversity
Four contrasting futures scenarios.
Reports and Scenarios game
International Futures Programme
The OECD International Futures Programme aims to provide the organisation with an early warning of emerging issues, pinpoint major developments, and analyse key long-term concerns to help governments respond. The Programme uses a variety of tools including multi-year projects, high-level conferences, expert workshops, and consultations, a futures-oriented online information system, and a network of contacts from government, industry, academia and civil society. Ongoing projects include ‘The Bioeconomy to 2030149 – focusing on the broad range of economic activities arising from the biosciences (including biofuels).
Scientific Knowledge for Environmental Protection- EU Framework project
Workpackages include investigating emerging issues for future research planning
Network of Environmental research funders with aim of improving co-ordination of research.
Various. Including on emerging technologies and review of horizon scanning approaches across European Member states.
Global energy scenarios 2050
To assist thinking about the future of energy, Shell has developed two scenarios150 to describe alternatives ways that energy consumption and production may develop. Shell uses these scenarios to test their strategy against a range of possible long-term developments and to examine and communicate ways in which a more sustainable future could be achieved.
Online discussion and (US-based) seminar series on emerging trends and scenarios
Online resource includes selected articles on all key trends
University of Cambridge, UK and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative
Conservation Futures Programme
Partnership between the university of Cambridge and 8 conservation organisations (BirdLife International, British Trust for Ornithology, Fauna and Flora International, RSPB, IUCN, TRAFFIC, Tropical Biology Association and UNEP-WCMC) to identify and address emerging issues for conservation and to foster closer integration between research and policy
Includes Sutherland et. al. ‘An assessment of the 100 questions of greatest importance to the conservation of global biodiversity’ a collaborative exercise between CCI and a range of other partners.
University of Stellenbosh
South African Institute for Futures research
Specialises in futures research as support for corporate strategic management
Various (e.g. ecosystems and business)
UK Global Environmental Change Committee
Global Biodiversity Subgroup
Group consisting of key government and other funders of biodiversity research in UK. Set up to identify and review research gaps and recommend strategic priorities for UK and EU science.
Most recent reports on Ocean Acidification and Biodiversity and climate change.
UK Government Office for Science
Horizon Scanning and Foresight programmes
Regular cross-government strategic Horizon Scans- particularly to spot implications of emerging science and technology; and in depth exploration of selected issues using a range of futures techniques. Current topics include Land Use and Sustainable Energy
Sigma scan- issues across public policy agenda
Delta scan-future science and technology issues and trends and their implications
Briefing papers on key S+T issues
Reports on future evolutions and challenges and options to address these
US Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Futures Programme
Programme to develop organisational capacity for foresight and pilot futures activity on key issues
Recent outputs include a review of ‘Second life’ and potential opportunities for EPA
Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) futures group was formed in 2004 to give WCS broad guidance on how it should think about the long-term future. Through a process led by Bio-era (an independent research consulting firm) the group developed a series of scenarios151 to explore how conservation activities and strategies might shift over the next 20 years in response to global circumstances and the interplay between politics, technology, economics; and to highlight where WCS might need to adapt its strategies and develop new capabilities. WCS view these scenarios as a ‘first step’ in thinking about how opportunities and challenges for conservation could change in the future; and to engage stakeholders in further discussion.
‘’Future of the wild’ report- 6 scenarios and key questions raised for WCS/conservation
Review of Capacity Fundamental to the Science-Policy Interface through National Capacity Self-Assessments
Capacity building for biodiversity and ecosystem services is a cross-cutting and multi-level key constituent for environmental governance in which all legitimate stakeholders exercise their rights equitably, through informed and active participation. The importance of capacity building is recognized by all Rio Conventions152 and actively implemented by national and international stakeholders.
There are three levels for targeted national capacity building action: the individual, the institutional and the national systemic levels. Capacity building efforts are likely to have the greatest impact if they are considered as part of a holistic approach. The outcomes to be achieved should contribute to all levels, especially the individual and the institutional.
There are many institutions, programmes and processes supporting capacity building in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, including UNDP, UNEP and FAO, GEF and a wide range of other multilateral and bilateral development assistance agencies, most of the MEAs, as well as some assessment processes. For example the following.
The UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)153 describes how UN agencies and programmes working at the national level can coherently respond to the priorities identified in national development frameworks supporting countries in achieving MDG-related national priorities. Capacity building needs of developing countries are identified in many of the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) developed in the context of the CBD, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, the National Adaptation Programmes of Action to Climate Change, and so on. Building on these nationally identified priorities, the UN Development Assistance Framework identifies how UN agencies and programmes working at the national level can support countries in achieving MDG-related national priorities.
The UNEP Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-building154 provides for a framework and systematic measures for technological support and capacity building based on national or regional priorities and needs:
To strengthen the capacity, in particular of developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to, inter alia: participate fully in the development of coherent international environmental policy, particularly with regard to MEAs; improve compliance with international agreements and implementation of their obligations at the national level; and improve achievement of national environmental goals, targets and objectives; and
To support a number of important capacity building needs, including the need to strengthen national capacities for data collection, research, analysis, monitoring and integrated environmental assessment; support for assessments of environmental issues of regional and subregional importance and for the assessment and early warning of emerging environmental issues; support for scientific exchanges and for the establishment of environmental and inter-disciplinary information networks; and promotion of coherent partnership approaches.
The National Capacity Self-Assessment (NCSA)programme for environmental management,155 established by the GEF, in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to identify capacity needs of developing countries to effectively meet the challenges of national and global sustainable development and environmental governance, and to strategically enhance their capacity.
However, despite these efforts, there remain considerable gaps in capacity relevant for the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services in developing countries, and the capacity divide continues to be a severe obstacle to equitable participation of developing countries and those with economies under transition in the processes relevant to the science-policy interface on biodiversity, ecosystem services, and beyond.156,157
A sample of 26 NCSA reports158 (out of 80 completed projects with reports accessible through the Programme’s website) was analysed for common capacity priority constraints. Because of the cross-cutting nature of natural resources, relevant needs identified under cross-cutting issues159 were considered, in addition to findings under the biodiversity thematic assessment. Specific objectives160 of NCSAs varied according to each country’s background, however most recommendations strongly supported the strengthening of existing institutional frameworks along with meeting individual capacity needs to supply needed human capacity. The results of this review are used in the following analysis.
Capacity for effective communication of knowledge needs
In countries with limited scientific and technical capacity, instructions on research priorities from policy makers are often ‘vague’ since they tend to leave science to scientists. There is a minimum level of environmental awareness needed on the part of policy makers to adequately formulate the need in term of scientific information for the policy processes.
Academies of Science, Science and Technology Councils and other similar institutions play vital framework and coordination roles for knowledge production, standardization and management. However these institutions lack in many developing countries; and where they exist, they largely depend not on funding from national government but often support from abroad. For example in Africa in 2001, only nine out of 53 countries had independent Science Academies.161
Effective coordination of scientific and technological research has the potential to stretch often limited budgets. This is particularly essential in developing countries and economies in transition where R&D budgets as a proportion of national GDP is very small.162 Cooperation between researchers and institutions inside a country, including data and facilities sharing, can improve its effectiveness in knowledge production.
NCSAs highlighted the following as some of the key priorities in identifying and communicating knowledge needs:
build institutional capacity in assessing research gaps for actual and future knowledge and information needs for effective policy-making;
create or strengthen frameworks to guide research programmes in a coherent manner, responsible for standardised research (serve as guarantors of research quality) and increase credibility in science-policy interface;
establish clear coordination mechanisms between knowledge producers and knowledge users to support policy-making processes; and
build institutional capacity to raise funds (from government, business and elsewhere) for research projects and programmes for individual and institutional capacity building, and knowledge production.
Capacity for effective production of scientific knowledge relevant to policy needs
Adequate information for the science-policy interface is lacking where knowledge generation capacity is in short supply or poorly coordinated. In the absence of empirical data, one alternative is the knowledge gleaned from case studies as source of information. Often the urgency and scale of challenges at hand do not favour such an approach.
Where scientific and technological capacity is in good supply, by pursuing their endogenous interests, researchers’ combined output generate enough new knowledge out of which needed information to feed into decision-making processes can be assembled. However, in developing countries, such capacity tends to be lacking. This leads to channelling of existing capacity to more policy-specific areas of need. The resulting lower visibility and presence at the global stage has potential to affect scientific legitimacy in the science-policy processes.
In the absence of adequate scientific information, policy makers’ choice is either to rely on less relevant information, outsource such advice from abroad, or ignore the need for scientific advice in policy-making. Credibility of scientific knowledge and legitimacy of the scientific community might be compromised. Other salient priorities include:
consolidating education in science and technology from primary to tertiary, to nurture talents and produce the number of graduates needed by institutions and the community at large;
building sufficient level of individual scientific manpower (taxonomists, ecologists…) to document and supply baseline data, knowledge and information on key components of biodiversity and natural resources;
building adequate data and knowledge management capacity (establish, consolidate and utilise baseline and monitoring data) to support planning mechanisms at various levels;
strengthening capacity to link scientific research with indigenous knowledge in all areas in addition to the traditional sectors of traditional medicine and food production;
developing, adapting and monitoring practical indicators and putting in place early warning systems for environmental emergencies to inform policy response; and